race report

The One Where Breca Buttermere Broke Me

Posted on August 5, 2017. Filed under: breca buttermere, DNF, race report, race review, swimrun |

“We have instructed the marshals to strictly enforce cut-offs. No excuses. No exceptions”

I heard it but I didn’t think it was relevant. Why would it be? I’ve never even been close to a cut-off before. But I had never done Breca Buttermere before.

This is the race report I never wanted to write. I’m not sure where it’s going to go but my last post “When the Bullshit Dries Up” was a fortuitous and timely reminder to take responsibility; write this report with the dignity that shows this amazing race the respect that it deserves.

This race pushed me beyond my limits. Whether it was preparation, or the savage course or just my age catching up with me I don’t really know. But I was beaten fairly and squarely. As Bukowski said, “What matters most is how well you walk through the fire”. Let me take you by the hand and walk through my fire.

There will be context that masquerades as excuses. Some of it may have had an impact on the day, some may not, but these are the things that felt important as the wheels fell off. There are no excuses here, I promise. I own the outcome.

My first DNF. Did. Not. Finish.

Get gin. Pour it long over ice. And settle down for a long read. The minutiae of this race is what makes it the race it is. I’ll spare you nothing.

The week before the race was imperfect, as it often is. Ted the mongrel wasn’t well.

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You see Ted the Mongrel eats literally anything which often upsets his stomach. Deer shit and sheep’s tails being favourite delicacies. So, on Sunday the week before, when he was sick it wasn’t anything unusual. Then again on Monday. And on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening he was quite unwell. I sat in the garden with him from midnight until 2am when the wretching started to ease. On Wednesday morning we woke up and the whole downstairs of the house had a few small patches that were not watery dog bile.

Off Ted and I went to the vets where he was admitted and put on a drip. By lunchtime he required a scan. By afternoon exploratory abdominal surgery was recommended. They removed an 18″ long soft toy that he had apparently swallowed in one gulp. He was due to be discharged on Thursday evening. This was delayed until Friday morning. He deteriorated overnight and our contingency plans went into place where I headed to Penrith by train while Pam and Roar went to visit Ted. Things were not looking good. Not looking good at all.

Make no mistake Ted is a dick. But he and I spend pretty much all day, every day together and in preparation for Buttermere we would hike 6 or 7 miles a day in addition to training. He’s a dick but he’s likeable in the way a village idiot is. I was worried about him. The arsehole.

Anyway. Back to the point.

Swimrun is a still a pioneer sport. There aren’t really any rules but the basics are this – you put on a wetsuit and trainers in the morning, you then travel round a pre-arranged course until someone tells you to stop, during this time you will swim and run and generally carry everything that you need. And, importantly, it’s a team sport – Andy being my partner – an Ironman, accomplished runner and a good swimmer.

Andy, Tara and Charlotte picked me up at Penrith and then we headed to registration. Early. Team number one. First to registration.

Now here is a thing about Breca Buttermere. You know you are toeing the line at a serious fecking event when the SAS Reserve are using registration as a recruitment event. I opted for a free promotional water bottle rather than applying for my own balaclava, although Andy was reading the brochure with unseemly interest.

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A theme of the race was that Ben and his team did a great job of gaining access to and maintaining the integrity of the Lakeland wilderness. At registration we bought our “cups for life” and our wetsuits and trainers were checked for biohazard and to ensure that we were not dragging invasive non-native species into the area. There is a brutality and rawness to the course and minimising our impact on it was a key ethos to the event.

Registration and briefing were like a meeting of the Tough Guys League. Whether the burliest bearded bloke or the most petite lady, the attire worn was a statement of the endurance CV’s of the field. I saw black Norsemen shirts, pretty much every Ironman on every continent, swim marathons, extreme ultras, normal ultras and even the occasional swimrun veteran. The alumni of the world’s toughest races had come to Keswick to pit themselves against the Breca course.

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We marked our arms with the course details. Slept the sleep of the unsleeping. Ate our porridge and then Tara took us to the meeting point.

And then it was time to go.

At 7:45am a bunch of coaches were full of variously attired athletes. Some completely done up as protection against the chilly wind and drizzle and some pretty much naked. The bus smelled of nervous farts filtered through neoprene blended with deep heat and the faint sweetness of electrolyte drinks. The bantz were minimal as we focussed on giant coaches drifting further and further into the wilderness.

We were dropped on a bleak moor, a cold wind battering into us.  The standard race preparations began – a queue for the portaloos forming and many a rubber suited chap hosing the dry stane dyke. Andy and I were interviewed by a video man. We waited some more and then on a countdown from 10, with no fuss and no fanfare, we were off.

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Dwarfed by our environment, significant only to ourselves, we headed in an upwards direction in what would be the theme of the day. It was funny that at the first gate people took a wrong turn and the majority of the field danced around puddles. It really would be a long day.

Within a couple of kilometres of the start we came to a shuddering stop at a kissing gate. A queue formed and we patiently waited our turn before steeply descending through the forest to Loweswater. This descent was runnable but was largely single track so the going was slow as we rapidly lost altitude down towards a forest track. Half an hour after we started we were swimming.

My heart rate was still high after the lakeside jog so I started slow, letting my breathing settle. Probably about 50m into the 400m swim I took point, as we had spent many hours practicing, and set a pace with Andy’s reassuring tap on my shoes every now and again. As we emerged from the swim we had a quick pace check – “OK, but probably on the fast side for longer swims”.

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The run from Loweswater to Crummock was about the only section of the day that was on tarmac, and was largely uneventful. Except that we met the sherpas unexpectedly. It is fair to say that they were noisy cheering sherpas, waking oversleepers in the nearby inn. And the dead in the nearby graveyard.

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The first swim in Crummock was when things got real. The Weather was sweeping in from the south and there were large white topped waves. The swim entry marshall reminded us to sight a static object as the kayakers could not hold position.

As we had practiced I swam on Andy’s left. I thought about taking the lead but the weather was so heavy it felt like I would be more useful next to him providing at least some shelter. The waves followed no pattern. Breaking on our backs, then head on and then catching our arms mid-recovery. Quite quickly we caught a team and I swam between them with their northern most swimmer getting sandwiched between Andy and I. It was the longest swim of the day and a big expanse of water, so it was challenging to work out our relative position but we were never more than a metre or so apart.

36181287441_c4fffd4678_oAs we’d agreed, we paused half way across to take in the majesty of our venue. We could barely have a conversation in the wind, and the bucketing rain, and breaking waves. I shouted to Andy to remind me in the morning about this swim when I wondered why I had bruised ribs. Unfortunately that wasn’t to be such clear cut analysis by the time we were done. As I sighted on the approach it was apparent the field was spread about 500m wide and drifting further from the exit. With about 100m to go I took the lead and guided us right into the exit flag.

In Crummock and Buttermere I made sure to drink plenty while I was swimming. Normally I don’t but it turned out to be a good use of downtime and remarkably easy to do without drowning.

Without fuss we got out and headed down the lake to the next crossing. Looking at the course profile the normal undulations of the race are masked by the enormity of the two big climbs but there is barely a flat surface in the whole race. Several times in this leg I disappeared into the bog well above my calf guards and this was where we started to see fallers carrying injuries.

The next crossing was my favourite of the lot. A clamber out on to a promontory and down it’s rocky face and up the same on the other side. I paused to have a chat with the marshall’s collie while letting Andy get in before me. The wind had eased so I pushed on to give Andy a draft and noticed an unfamiliar tap on my shoe. Andy was in a tussle with another swimmer to take my draft. Sharp elbows and some tactical manoeuvring and all was right again.

As I soft stroked into the rock I could see the sherpas on top. I lifted my leg out of the water to start the climb and got some vicious hamstring cramp. It took quite a bit of cuddling and handholding from Andy to stretch out the cramp and get going again.

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This was also checkpoint 2 before the first climb of the day. The sherpas ran the 50m from the swim exit to the checkpoint with us.

Ted had been preoccupying me; I was pretty certain he wasn’t going to make it and on the longer swims I’d been trying to work out how to explain it to Roar. That felt bad, really bad. I asked Pam how Ted was and she and Tara clearly hadn’t agreed an approach, I wasn’t sure how to interpret the response but it would have to save for later. I grabbed a handful of jelly babies, a couple of pieces of banana and took two good cups of electrolyte.

The hill wasn’t particularly punishing but was a hands on knees type effort. Somewhere in the foothills Andy offered me a taste of the Tribe Bar he had picked up. Now I understand that they were a sponsor and they supported the race and good on them for that but, shit the bed, they were a godawful bar. I chewed on the mouthful that I had until I couldn’t chew it anymore and then I tried to launch it. But I couldn’t cleanly gob it from my mouth. I was left looking like Roar does on Easter morning. It was dry but chewy and bitter yet sweet. At that stage of the race my insoles would probably have been more pleasing on the palate while marginally easier to chew.

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At this stage, we noticed for the first time the teams that had overtaken us long before were overtaking us again. We were taking huge chunks out of teams in the water only to lose it on dry land again. I kinda knew that would be the case but it sucked to know that if my legs were a bit quicker we could have consolidated on our power in the water.

Finally we went over the top after about 250m of ascent and plummeted back towards Crummock with a clear view of the swim, now well under way. It was an uncomfortable descent, the gradient making a run feel death defying and a walk feel decidedly awkward. I’d love to learn how to run properly in the hills.

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The last swim in Crummock, we settled back into our rhythm overtaking a dozen teams that had left us for dead in the hills.

The run from Crummock over to Buttermere was tough underfoot and undulating but straightforward. As we got to the waterfall there was a loud cheering squad and then as we descended to the bridge we saw Tara and Charlotte. Then Roar appeared giving me a big leg hug.

I took orange segments and jelly babies, a couple of cups of electrolyte and we were on our way again. This was an odd swim as it was never more than waist deep. Andy swam from the start and I walked a bit waiting for a ledge. It never came.

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Coming out of the water we ran south and through a tunnel carved out of the rock. We were really starting to get into the traffic of bemused bystanders at this point.

Then came what was undoubtedly my favourite part of the day.

Andy went full Hasselhoff, skipping along the beach and butterflying below the water, with what appeared to be slightly less grace than he intended. As I waded out it became apparent what had happened. There was a sharp shelf in the water and he had fallen off of it, attempting to style out his bellyflop for the cheering crowd on the beach. 9.7 from the judge from Fife.

We ran round the south end of Buttermere, again swapping places with the teams that had struggled in the water. The next swim, which would turn out to be our last swim, followed our standard pattern. As we exited the sherpas were back and they ran up the hill with us to the checkpoint. The marshall at the top of the rocky hill shouted that we were best part of an hour ahead of cut-off.

Checkpoint 4 was probably the only criticism I have of the race organisation. It was advertised to be a delightful buffet of bananas, gels, kendal mint cake, boiled new potatoes, hot tea, water and electrolyte. But it was seriously depleted – the bananas, gels and kendal mint cake were gone. So that left boiled new potatoes and the ubiquitous tribe bar.

The bloody boiled potatoes had been a running joke before the race. They are probably in my bottom three foodstuffs. On the best of days I can’t stomach them hot, never mind cold 26k into a race. I couldn’t believe a race would supply them. A perversion.

But, I was bang out of options, the aid table was bare. I had to stuff a boiled potato into my face. It was ice cold and covered in salt. I was gagging. Really heaving as I tried to swallow it.

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I knew the high fells stage was going to make or break our day so I had stuffed a soft flask in my wetsuit to ensure I had hydration when we went high. Given the state of the aid station I also stuffed a tribe bar in my wetsuit and we set off.

I’m not going to write too much about the high fells stage because I don’t think I have the words to adequately describe it and I don’t know how reliable my memories are.

We crossed the road and started ascending through woods. I’d describe the bottom section as steep and then it went to something beyond steep. The next two kilometres were absolute buggering hell. My watch recorded gradients of 49% with much of the first climb at over 25%. That is basically like going up a ladder. We were grabbing ferns, grass and the fence to pull ourselves up. A misplaced foot could mean a slip about a metre back down the hill. Within a kilometre my extra electrolyte was done.

Our fear as a team was always that either I would overheat or Andy would get chilled in the high fells. On the first climb a vicious wind was blowing and I could see Andy getting cold with my slow going; on the other hand it was probably giving me a false reading on my own temperature and I didn’t cab down my wetsuit.

The climb was so ridiculous the teams that were passing us could only laugh. One team that we swapped places with on every stage started shouting from well below. As they drew even I was still full of fun,

“Just how bad a swimmer actually are you?”

“Really bad but to be honest I’m not even a very good walker now”

The banter didn’t last long. Teams fractured on the relentless climb. Sharp words. Team-mate swapping. Silent trudging. The teams at the pointy end of the field were doing 30 minute miles. Our mountain-mates were slower still. It wasn’t fun. Not even a wee bit.

As requested in pre-event training, Andy kept cajoling me onwards. We met a walker with two retrievers and Andy settled in for a warming cuddle. With the dogs not the man, obviously.

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When we reached the first ridge the views opened up all around us. Loweswater, Crummock and Buttermere glistening in the sunlight far below us. As I huffed and puffed onto the ridge, pulse red-lining, a quote from a Breca 2016 blog sprung to mind: “life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but by the moments that take our breath away”. This was living life as it is supposed to be lived.

We traversed Littledale Edge with Honister Pass far below us. Descending steeply I pointed out to Andy that my fingers looked like two packets of uncooked Richmond sausages. Dehydration. My mouth was also like I’d swallowed a bundle of cotton wool. He took my flask and the remainder of our day involved Andy sourcing puddles, which kept him warm, to hydrate me which kept me going.

The ascent to Dale Head had a cruel false summit and another steep descent before the climb to the summit. At this stage another team reassured me that they had plenty electrolyte and offered me some. I feel really guilty about this one as they were moving forwards really steadily and overtook us but then dropped back and missed cut-off too. I am hoping that they had enough water, because they were bloody good guys. Absolute angels to me when I was at my most dehydrated.

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The descent from Dale Head was vicious. Steep, rocky and treacherous but it gave us the perfect outlook of what was to come. The climb up High Spy but, more importantly the stream far below. Andy pushed on for water and I gingerly descended. Two flasks of water and I could feel my core temperature settle. With hindsight I should probably have  jumped in Dale Head Tarn and wet my wetsuit and let myself cool down properly. But by now we knew we needed a determined effort to make the checkpoint.

We could run for a bit between the bottom of Dale Head and the start of the climb to High Spy. Then the gradient increased again. Quite early on we had to climb a waterfall. As I raised my right leg my groin and inner thigh spasmed, cramping horribly.

I stretched it out and pressed on but precious moments were slipping away. At the top of High Spy making check point was still doable but stretching. We were running over the top and onwards onto the next ridge, pushing as hard as we could knowing that the descent off the high fells would be ugly.

The sun was high in the sky and the wind had fallen. Looking back on the data now we were below 6min kilometres and I could feel my pulse soaring, each step sent a shock through my body that culminated in a bass drum banging in my head. I’d stopped sweating, I felt sick and then I felt cold. Goosebumps creeping up my arms and round my body. I shouted ahead. “Andy, I think I might have a touch of heatstroke”.

Andy came back for my flask. “We need to ease up, getting off this hill safely needs to be our aim now”

“It’s ok, lets keep pushing on”

Sometime between Andy taking my flask and finding water I took an arse over tit tumble into a path gouged deeply in the surface of the ridge. I knew I hadn’t hit my head but pretty much everything else took a thud on the way down. My hands and both my elbows were bleeding, one elbow quite heavily. I had a dead leg and my ribs felt like, for the second time in the day, they had taken a pounding.

With bloodied hands and cramping legs Andy couldn’t help me up. I had to muscle my way out of the hole, sending my pulse racing again.

Moments later, rounding a sizeable mound on a slippery path I fell again. Vaguely aware of my surroundings I let Andy choose my path step by step for me.

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I was cooked. The next 20 minutes was basically Andy filling a cup with any liquid he could find and tipping it over me. Depending on the quality of the muddy puddle I got a “drink this one”, “over the head only”, or “sip but mainly over the head”. Slowly as we walked it out and I was doused my temperature came back down, the headache eased and my urge to vomit subsided.

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We were probably the loneliest men on the high fells as we looked over Derwent. Months of training wasted. I was gutted for Andy who could easily have made it over that stage on his own with hours to spare.

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The final moments of our race were down a savage “staircase”. Having been pretty well rehydrated I was feeling almost human again but that wasn’t even anything to celebrate.

We hit the checkpoint 17 minutes after cut-off, over eight and a half hours after we started, with only 5k to go, having done 38k and all of the brutal ascent. We were the first team to time out in the high fells with 14 teams behind us or already abandoned before this stage. There was still almost two hours left until the finish line closed.

It was a bitter pill to swallow as a finish was still easily doable, but we knew the rules and we retired in a lay-by in the woods with all the dignity we had left to muster.

This is a viciously majestic race that beat me fairly and squarely. I’m still not sure whether I love it or hate it but I know it had an affect on me that will probably take years to work out. The sights, the experiences, the camaraderie, the spilt blood and scabbed wounds mean that I will always view this more as an experience to be savoured than a race lost.

I have no idea, at this stage, whether this will one day feel like unfinished business. A week on it still feels like something, whose memories I will forever enjoy, but that I would not put myself through again.

Andy was a great training partner and for 20+ kilometres we had a great race. I am grateful for him being a good friend and coaxing me down from those hills and I’ll be forever one item of bling in his debt.

Swimrun is the future, that much I know for certain and will write more about.

For now, although I think Breca Buttermere is amazing, it is still in it’s infancy I think it could be even better. A couple of suggestions for Ben:

– the high fell stage is part of the character of the race but it’s a hella section to be unsupported. There were a lot of dehydrated people up there when the sun came out and some extra water either to carry from the bottom or at an aid station would keep the savagery but improve the safety. The logistics are challenging but necessary – it’s not an ultra or a fell run, it has different needs.

– the checkpoint before the high fells needs to be properly stocked. This needs no explanation

– I get the need for a checkpoint after the high fells but having the cut-off at the water’s edge would make a massive difference. The overly hot can get in the water and the hypothermic can get in a RIB for the short trip to race HQ. We, genuinely, would probably have swumrun faster than we were driven back. After we finally made it back, the water safety team was still out on the water.

As a postscript, Andy and I went back and finished the course a couple of days later. We did it in under an hour with plenty of dicking about with the gopro and adding quite a bit of distance on. On race day, despite the fatigue we could have walked it in within the cut-off.

In terms of balance we were timed out at 88% distance, but only 80% time. More importantly, for a swim bias team we had done 90% run distance and all the ascent but only 72% swim distance. The rules are the rules, and were crystal clear, but it would have been great to let swimmers swim and show their mettle as long as their was still a water support team on the lake.

This is one tough ass race that will just get better and better.

As an additional postscript Ted pulled through and I could pick him up from hospital with his large stash of tramadol on the Tuesday after the race. He is back being a dick again.

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Ich bin ein Berliner

Posted on October 5, 2016. Filed under: berlin marathon, marathon, race report, race review, running |

There is a saying that just because you are paranoid doesn’t mean that everyone isn’t out to get you.

Likewise just because you are maranoid doesn’t mean that everything doesn’t hurt. As a veteran of many long distance events I have “enjoyed” the psychological battle against the phantom aches and pains that come with an event taper.

But there is something that especially sucks about approaching an event nursing real injuries and knowing that you just haven’t done enough training to justify your space on the start line. And 4 runs in 8 weeks, with the longest being 10 miles, is most certainly not enough for a marathon.

I didn’t expect to get into the Berlin marathon when I entered it. And so I planned a year of long distance swims after the early season Glen Lyon Ultra. And so I found myself with shoulder injuries, shin splints and general fatigue when I was 4 weeks out from race day.

But I was paid up and going anyway. More importantly, however, was that Berlin was a really important step on the road to Berlin.

Let me explain.

Sometime, just before noon on January 1st 2009 in Berlin, I was just out of bed and eating deep fried wurst, and drinking sekt.  Piling a hangover on top of another hangover, not quite able to take a full breath, shattered from a few hours of drunken slumber, not sure if my body could take much more abuse.

On January 5th 2009, Iron Nessie convinced me to enter a 10k. And I’ve not really stopped moving forwards since Berlin.

So, with that background, there was some irony that on my triumphant return to Berlin I would suffer the ignominy of hobbling around the capital like the most zealous of pre-paid bling monkeys. Still wheezing like a chubby-assed, binge drinker but just clad in more active wear.

And so to the race.

The week before was all about rearranging the deckchairs on the titanic. A physio appointment just to check that the pain in my shins wasn’t a stress fracture and calf raises  because. Well because it was all I could do really. Like all my marathon efforts, with the exception of Rome 2010, I arrived at the start line in somewhat imperfect nick.

I had no idea how this was going to do. I was genuinely a little concerned by the 6:30 cut-off. As ever, there were two stories going on. The shrill chimp, high on a litre of mad dog, giving it “ermahgerd, you’re gonna be so shit and probably puke and shit yourself and your shins will probably start bleeding and then they won’t even give you a medal because you’re so shit”. And then the more calming, reassuring voice that whispers in my ear “look big boy, you’ve done two ironman, marathon swims, an ultra, this is your 6th marathon and if nothing else you know how to grind out a finish despite the odds”. Needless to say I much prefer the second voice. It gets me more than my inner teenage girl, who can get a bit lary.

That psychological warfare would continue right up until I woke up on race morning.

On arrival, we jumped straight in a taxi from the airport to the expo on Friday evening to keep Saturday free. Registration was slick but the expo was overwhelming and adidas once again stocked enough merchandise to last approximately 45 minutes of the three day expo.   Incredibly, in what became a theme, people were wearing 2016 Finisher’s t-shirts as soon as they bought them (some wore them in the race and some, bizarrely, didn’t even have wrist bands on so goodness know what their finish was referring to).  I was not being especially perceptive in noting that, at that stage, they were not 2016 finishers. Mainly because the race hadn’t happened.

 

Being larger than the average marathon runner I was spoiled for choice of finisher’s kit but Pam couldn’t get anything. So despite best intentions we got back for opening on Saturday morning and were the first ones in.

Bling sorted we then just did a bit of hanging about in Berlin seeing things we’d never seen before. Shunning the standard approach to the day before a marathon it appears that I walked 25,000 steps.

Nessie and Al were also running so we arranged to meet for dinner near Alexanderplatz along with Nessie’s maw and paw. Despite the absence of alcohol, she managed to be both late and in the wrong place. Literally turning up late, 4 miles away. How is that even possible?

Hugs. Tram. Bed. Standard disturbed sleep. Porridge and coffee. Walk to the start.

The first challenge of the day was bag drop off. I may have walked 26.2 miles to get to our bag drop through the detritus of marathon preparations. The stretches. The nervous farts. The portajohn queues. The lady who dropped her shorts, bent over and was liberally lubing her arse crack. You can never unsee the athletes area from before and after long distance sporting events.

About 20 minutes before the start we made our way down to the start line and just sat on the pavement. Bizarrely, amongst 40,000 people we bumped into Al and the three of us then sat on the pavement and listened to Gazelle’s Try Everything (this may have passed you by unless you are German or own a 5 year old), apparently stuck on shuffle on the organiser’s iPod.

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And then, while we were still sitting on the floor, we saw the gun go on the big screen and everyone moved. Shiiiiiiiite. We’re being a bit casual about this.

We bound to our feet, say our goodbyes and assume the position ready for a mass start. But nothing happens. About 30 minutes later, and the day now getting warm, we can see the start line in the distance.

Another 10 minutes later I see portaloos just before the start line and decide to save some race time with a pre-start visit. We re-say our goodbyes and I bolt for the john.

Relieved, my Berlin Marathon then starts. Two remarkable things happen about 100m past the line – I see the first person have a walk break and I hear the start line announcer say “10 seconds until we close the start line”. That was definitely my most casual start. Ever.

Race strategy was simple. Drink loads. Run as slowly as possible to ensure I could run as far as possible. Walk run when I couldn’t run anymore. And drag my broken body through the gravel until I finally crossed the line. Relentless forward progress.

At 5k the whole shebang grinds to a shuddering halt as 40,000 people try to squeeze between two trestle tables separated by a minefield of discarded plastic cups.

I glug a cup of water, dunk my sponge and proceed.

I try to follow the blue line but there are so many blue line zealots. “I am walking but I shall walk on the blue line without deviation. You may run around me”. “Yes, the blue line does cross the road diagonally, but I shall follow it, for I must follow the blue line. Bend to my will. Follow the blue line”. The blue liners caused carnage. I hope they all registered exactly 42,195m at the finish as they desired, although I suspect many of them were punched in the head by tired and frustrated runners.

At 10k I establish a rhythm – run, cup of water, cup of energy drink, dunk sponge twice – once over head, once down back, run. Because of the leisurely start it was getting steamy out there. The medics were already busy with the dehydrated and delirious.

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The fire brigade were out hosing the runners and I went through their hose every time. I was soaked to the skin but each soaking gave me about 5 minutes reprieve from the heat. Amazingly it appeared to be only the Scots and the Paddys that were taking advantage of this service.

Half way came and went, absolutely bang on target to my 4:45 pace band. And then the pain slipped into my consciousness. And once I noticed it I couldn’t un-notice it. About 23k I started the walk run element of the strategy. At 25k I horsed down a large dose of ibuprofen.

25k through to 32k were just miserable. I was hot and I was hurting. And then I think the ibuprofen kicked in. And the reassuring voice in my head was back “you’ve got this – just two parkruns to go, you’ve swum further this year”.

I knew the route from Potsdamer Platz, it was close to the apartment and we’d walked it the day before. I took Red Bull at the Red Bull aid station – I can tell you for a fact that you can make Red Bull taste worse by watering it down.

Potsdamer Platz. 38k. Two kilometres of straight road, then a squiggle through the streets and then I’ll see the Brandenburg Gate.

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Solid running for 2k down Leipzigerstrasse. A sign with my new favourite German word. Endspurt. I was winding up towards my endspurt.

A brief walk. More water. More sponge.

I turn the corner already running.

Time is irrelevant. I am going to finish.

BRANDENBURG GATE.

The running doesn’t hurt any more. I speed up. I am loving this. I can feel the smile wrapping around my face and transforming my day.

I look up just before I go under the Brandenburg Gate. A huge wave of emotion comes over me. A kind of manly pseudo-sob. I don’t care how often you do a marathon, every single one challenges you more than you would ever believe and digs deep into your soul.

Crowds. Photographers. Europop. Finish line. Medal.

WATER. I NEED WATER.

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I have never seen human debris like it. Bodies everywhere. Cramp. Medics. Limps. Collapses. A girl contorted by cramp screams from a gurney.

I get to baggage and someone hands me a beer. Correction. A low alcohol beer. I enthusiastically glug half of it because it is cold and wet. A then a record scratch, look to camera moment as I recall why I don’t drink alcohol free beer. Portaloo water sieved through my trainer and sock would probably be more palatable.

I get off my vest and put on my finisher’s t-shirt and sit down in the sun. I retrieve my phone and amongst a flood of messages see that Pam is just about to finish and Al has just finished. So I just lie back and chill, reading and responding to those with the patience to spend Sunday morning refreshing an app.

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Pam finishes and despite raging thirst also shuns my half-drunk but still cool alcohol free beer. And we start the trek back to the apartment.

Nessie claims to have donuts but we never find her in the debris in front of the Reichstag. I can only assume she was embarrassed by horsing them all down before we were finished.

On the trudge back we see the broom wagon at about 40k and cheer the runners still on the course. Especially those overtaken by the broom wagon but determined to finish.

And then starts the long process of beer hydration. With steak and great company.

So, what did I think of Berlin? Loved it. Pam and others thought it was poorly supported compared to London, which is true. But also it doesn’t have the claustrophobia of London. You can hear yourself think and when you are suffering you can have some time to have a word with yourself without a boozed up crowd hollering at you.

And call me un-British but I thought running under the Brandenburg Gate beat running past Buckingham Palace.

And that’s that for 2016. 2017 already looks exciting. There will be more to follow for sure.

 

 

 

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The Thames Marathon

Posted on August 10, 2016. Filed under: 2016, henley bridge to bridge, henley swim, marathon swimming, open water swimming, race report, thames marathon, Uncategorized |

“Technically a crisp packet could do it.”

The unhealthily speedy amphibian Steve Mott certainly intended these as reassuring words but, as I drank more wine the evening before the Thames Marathon swim, I began to get pre-occupied that I would reach Marlow with a somewhat forlorn breast stroke, some distance behind a carelessly discarded prawn cocktail carcass.

This would be my first attempt at a marathon swim and I had no concept what to expect.

It started so innocently in September.

Jan: Fancy coming down to do the Bridge to Bridge swim?

Me: Sure.

You’ll notice I didn’t pause to think about it. If the same offer was a run or a bike I would at least have spluttered into my gin and tonic, just before a significant monologue of expletives, finally ending the conversation with at least one “NO”.

How hard could it be?

Somewhat contrary to my usual approach to swimming I tried the training thing.  That didn’t work out so well for me as I wrecked my shoulder (yet again) and got an ear infection.  However it was probably better preparation than drunkenly commandeering a taxi in Newcastle to drive thru Mcdonalds the night before a long distance swim.

But it’s all swings and roundabouts. Ying and yang and all that. As long as I could feel my fingers and had some Monster Munch as a pacer I would definitely make it from Henley Bridge to Marlow Bridge the long way.

Thursday night I chuck the wetsuit and goggs in the case. Friday morning we pack up the entourage and head south. Friday lunchtime the Google Maps lady kidnaps Sharon and holds her hostage in a dark part of the T5 car park until we offer Roar as a ransom. Or she just got lost. But I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.

As ever, Londonshire gently poaches me. And grills me. I get sweaty and turn red. I turn my mind to the Thames. I will probably need to cut my wetsuit arms and legs off. In fact I will probably have to transform it into neoprene speedos just to get to the end without expiring. But if I do that I’ll end up on some register. Decisions, decisions.

Weekend events progress. Beer. Wine. Blackwoods Gin in the campest glass EVER. A foregone fancy burger. Pokemon Go. Taking a picnic up a hill. Arriving back at car sans car keys. Children talking. And talking. More effing Pokemon. Waiting. Rediscovered car keys. SUNBURN. Children talking at 5am. About Pokemon.

We get to Saturday evening. Shits getting serious. Jan and I do goggle and rubber suit stuff. While drinking beer. We carb load on Sharon’s amazing risotto. Asparagus risotto. (Hold that thought) Wine? Don’t mind if I do. A few last minute texts along the theme of “don’t be shit”, “don’t die”, “beat the crisp packet”, “don’t drink the shit flavoured water”. Awe inspiring stuff.

I lay down the law. “Be in the car at 6:30 or we’re leaving without you”. Which was quite bold given that I wasn’t even the driver.

Asleep.

Awake. Jammers on under my shorts. Porridge. Tape my neck up like a fetishist.

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The bold statement works; the 6:30 headcount confirms no children have been left behind yet Pokemon playing adults are borderline. We’re off.

We arrive at Leander Club in Henley. Not a bad spot for a race. I find my own square of grass amongst the rubber suited fetishists and organise my neoprene and lubes and tapes. Wetsuit to the waist I wander over to watch the first (mainly fast) wave start.

Hooter. W.T.A.F. THEY ARE ALL GOING THE WRONG WAY.

Oh. Wait. Maybe it’s me that is disorientated. Yup, that’s what it is.

Race briefing: basically along the lines of try not to die. I paraphrase a very thorough briefing but that’s kinda all I heard.

Set my Glympse app to transmit. Zip up. Inflate tow buoy. Into the Thames we go.

According to Leander club the river flow was normal, however, the difficulty that we had holding a start line suggested there was a decent current. Which was lucky because I followed my usual swim race routine. Remember the asparagus? Yup, already on it’s way to Marlow.

Jan and I have a final moment of bon mots and the horn goes.

As has become the norm I have assumed everyone has seeded themselves with some degree of self awareness. As has become the norm I swim straight into frog’s leg soup and head up breastroke.

I know to keep my cool so I just go with the flow. Find a space. Fill it. Move on to the next space.

I will emerge from the stramash without concussion.

After a couple of hundred metres I look up and I am in a small group, maybe a dozen. A few minutes later I look up and I AM WINNING THE FRIGGING RACE. Admittedly it was a bit early to call it victory.

A group of three of us start working together and a breath under the arm suggests that we are making some distance on the pack. Something bizarre must happen with the flow in the Thames. Groups would suddenly fracture and disconnect with no change in pace and then come back together, which must have been to do with currents within the flow.

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Me. Ahead of People. My new favourite thing.

I lost all sense of time on this section. I knew I had 4k to swim but I had no idea how far out we were. And then I breathed and noticed the exit sign behind me. My group of three had swum past. Anyway, I backtrack and get out. I’m handed a wipe and use some antibacterial gel. I slop some vaseline on my neck. Grab half a banana and a square of soreen and make my way through the transition. I instantly realise the error in the order of the aid station table as I try to eat soreen preserved in petroleum jelly.

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Just as I reach the entry point back into the river I see the sherpas. “I WAS IN THE LEAD. Briefly”.  KEEP GOING.

The next 6k section is going to make or break the day. I get back in but I’ve lost the group. They are about 50m ahead. I decide not to burn any matches but to make my way back up to them very gently.

It’s a lonely business. I check out follies and giant estates on either bank. Something catches my eye in the sky. I take three exaggerated breaths to properly look. It’s a plane. But now I’m waaaay off line. BANG. Canoe. Soz.

For the first couple of km I swim alone and then I see the lead group start to splinter. (The tow buoys and perfect for sighting groups). I think I’ll catch those that are dropped, take a brief draft then move on to the next one. But those that are shelled by the group are dropping back like stones. A lot of pink caps from the first wave starting to struggle.

About 4k into this section I catch the group just at a sharp left turn in the river. I feel surprisingly amazing.

I see a weir up ahead. It can’t be that time already. Nah. Everyone is definitely swimming past it on the right. I breathe. Haud on, that’s Sharon. I hear Rory cheering. Yaaaaaaas. 10k nailed.

Volunteer:  “How are you feeling?”

Me: “OH MY GOD I AM LOVING THIS I SO WANT TO DO IT AGAIN OH MY GOD IT’S SO MUCH FUN”; my inner 10 year old girl escapes in the excitement.

I clamber out. My neck feels raw. And my ear. MY EAR.

I am handed a wipe. I wipe my face. Pam asks where all the blood is coming from. Nowhere apparently. But MY EAR IS SORE.

I eat about an inch of a Boost bar and take a handful of crisps. Rory eats the crisps. All kids look at the aid station with the covetous eyes of confectionery predators. I chuck back two cups of energy drink (Jesus shit, that was buggering awful stuff) and two cups of water. Neck lubed. Ready to go.

I am held by a canoeist as a couple of boats pass.

We swim about 20m to a stepladder, up and onto an island. A short trot across the island and back into the river. It’s rocky. I watch people ahead of me mince in on the sharp rocks. I note where they get just above ankle depth. I get there and bellyflop into the water and drag myself, belly down, over the rocks.

The third section is only about 1.5k, narrow and we swim on the left hand side. This feels like the home straight.

At the third exit I fumble on the stepladder. The lowest step is just about at water level leaving me contorted on my back, in a rubber suit trying to get out.

Quite a long walk this time. Crisps. Water. Lube. I’ve mastered the order of the aid station.

I chat to all the marshalls thanking them for an incredible day. I chat so long in fact that a bloody great cruise ship gets between me and the main group. I get held back.

Then it’s time for the final section. “Once you turn the corner you’ll see the bridge. 2.2km”.

“Is this deep water?”

“Yes”

I bomb. Like a naughty 10 year old. I am loving this waaaay too much.

The last section is lonely. I swim alone, only ever seeing dropped pink caps.

I am mesmerised by the weeping willows that line the bank. Then the long balustrade that the pushes long shadows onto the Thames. Then the little cube hut. Then I see the buoy.

I am probably tired but I don’t feel it. This race should be shown the respect it deserves. I start to pick up a kick, turn my arms over faster. This is a proper event; I’m going to finish this like a proper swimmer.

The buoy gets closer. My mind searches for the memory of the finish procedure. Nah. It’s gone. I ask a canoeist.

“Over there”, he points at a densely populated bank with dayglo signs and marquees.

“Ah, yes. Now I see”

“You’ll need to wait for these boats to pass”.

“No worries”

“OK, on you go”

Head down. Elbows high. Long strokes. 6 beat kick. This is what it’s all about. This is why I love to swim. This makes all the hours in the pool worthwhile. I. AM. A. MARATHON. SWIMMER.

I get medalled. But, more importantly, I find out I finished in 3:27. Ridiculous. A bit ahead of my anticipated 4:30 and probably indicative of a decent current. I beat the crisp packet. But Loch Lomond will give me an idea of my real pace.

I get dry and change. Jan comes in at 3:59:58. Now that’s a proper sub 4!

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What can I say about the Thames Marathon? An amazing event – expensive, with very little fluff over and above the swim but an incredible venue, assuring water safety, the BEST volunteers and a buffet that would delight any 10 year old at every stop on the river.

Incredible thank yous to Jan for asking me, and to Sharon, Jan, Molly and Finn for being the best hosts. It was a proper whole weekend experience!

The show moves on to the Great Scottish Swim 10k in 3 weeks. I need a solution to a chafing ear and I need a bit more release by the physio of my shoulder and my thoracic spine.

But in all other respects:

I. AM. READY.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Jogging and Swimming at the Keswick Mountain Festival

Posted on May 24, 2016. Filed under: 10k, 1500m OW Swim, 2016, Hill Running, Keswick Mountain Festival, open water swimming, race report, race review, running, swimming, Uncategorized |

In March, while visiting the US, I discovered a new phenomenon – Granny’s Apple Fries – deep fried Granny Smith apples. As an international junk food explorer it was my duty to try them:

“Granny’s Apple Fries, please”, I request politely.

“Regular or Large?”

Duh, thinks I. “Large”

“Alamo?”

“……”, I pause to process the question.

“Alamo?”, louder still.

My mind processes the request, the frustrated look and the lengthening queue. Alamo. Davy Crockett? Served in a raccoon fur hat? Are we hunkering down to see off the Mexicans in the queue as a Trumpian private army?

I go all British. “I’m terribly sorry, I don’t understand the question”

“ALAMO”, louder still, using the British technique for bridging international communication issues.

A supervisor approaches. They mumble in American to each other.

“A la mode!?”

I speak pidgin French, I can do this. Wait. That means “in fashion”.

Speechlessly I do my confused face.

“Do y’all want your fries with ice cream?” A question I thought I’d never be asked as a grown up.

“Oh yes please”. I gasp, exhausted and broken.

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***

This exchange brought me to two conclusions about America. Firstly, they invented deep frying apples – I don’t know what this means but when they write the history of the world I feel it will be significant. And secondly, as Oscar Wilde said, we are indeed two nations separated by a common language (and they can mangle French quite effectively as well).

Which, in a very indirect way takes me to my point.

The KMF Trail 10k brought my total of trail races to three and I can now safely conclude that trail runners and other runners are a common breed separated by a common language. Where a trail runner says hill, I see mountain. Where a trail runner says gently sloping, I see near vertical mountain face.

And so it was that I found myself contemplating the Keswick Trail 10k, described tantalisingly as “perfect for entry level runners who want to start trail running. It’s a mixture of wide open trails, some single track, a few easy hills with some road and fields to finish”.

I shall return to this but back to the beginning.

***

After her Glencoe half Pam signed up to do the Keswick 25k and while browsing the website I found a 1.5k swim and entered. After a little more browsing I discovered I could also squeeze in a 10k, although I knew it would be a big ask 2 weeks after the Glen Lyon ultra, but what the hell. Lets make a weekend of it, joined by Pam’s running partner and cousin Sandi and her family.

IMG_20160520_203558The Festival opens on Friday and has an amazing laid back atmosphere with kids and dogs and down jackets and trail shoes and marquees and bands clinging on to the sloped shoreline of Derwentwater. There are live bands and a million distractions but the real star of the show is the stunning view down the lake that changes with every change in the weather, of which there were many.

Pam and Sandi were duly dropped off on Saturday morning for the gentle hills of the 25k as the skies opened. All 450 runners and sherpas squeezed into the registration marquee for the race briefing as the rain upped it’s game from epic to biblical and then, without fuss, the race kinda started from inside the marquee. An hour in the beer tent later and the weather went saharan. Great for the sherpas but a steamy run for the runners on their undulating loop round Derwentwater.

All the trail events finished on the lake shore with a long (uphill) run through a knowledgeable and supportive crowd. Every runner was cheered in no matter how long they took. The finish area was probably the best supported that I have seen outside of Ironman or VLM which is incredible for an event in the depths of the lakes.

Anyway, Pam and Sandi finished without incident, loving the course and the volunteers, which means we can end the preamble and get on to the main events.

Sunday morning saw the ultra runners away at 6am and, when I arrived just before 9, I am pretty sure that I saw the last of the casualties from Toploader and Scouting for Girls crawling out of the fragrant portaloos.

KMF 10K Trail Run

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There are many things that are unique about the KMF but the boat trip across Derwentwater for the start of the 10k must be one of the most special. The sky was blue, the water was like a mirror and the sun shone down on Catbells.

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Yes, the sun on Catbells. Oh. What is that glinting in the sun? Oh. Runners. 10k runners. UP A FRIGGING MOUNTAIN. A few easy hills, MY ARSE.

I look at the lady next to me on the boat. I point and soundlessly mouth words. She nods. My heart sinks.

As we dock we head to a field. At which point a hundred or so people disappear into the woods, emerging a little later tightening drawstrings at their waists. We are given the one minute warning to move to the start line. As instructed I move to the start line. I look around, no-one else has moved to the start line. HOLY SHITE I AM AT THE FRONT.

GO!

On a track maybe three runners wide, gnarly with tree roots and rutted. A few racing snakes overtake. I am behind a girl dicking around with her iPod playlist as the path narrows to single file. Oh bugger, I AM the traffic jam.

After a kilometre or so we start climbing through wet mud and tree roots still pretty much single file. I am still running, thank god. And then we pop out on a downhill road. And then we climb.

Apparently the route is the Catbells Terrace. I don’t really know what I am talking about but I would describe it as technical as we slid and clambered on loose scree. After a kilometre the scenery opens up looking down the lake to Keswick and Derwent Isle that I will be swimming around in a couple of hours. The route changes to a steep downhill and I happily trot down actually taking advantage of ballast and gravity and overtaking some of the frailer racing snakes. Until we climb again, this time I insert some half hearted jogs – I exchange positions time and time again with the more steady runners that keep up a metronomic pace. I run like an attention deficient four year old, sprinting, walking, gasping.

At about 6k we cross a road into some woods. I inhale deeply and a mouthful of midges hit my sick trigger at warp speed. The next couple of kilometres are characterised by me hoiking up and snot rocketing mangled midge carcass. I skip the water station for fear of swallowing dilute insect protein.

The last three kilometres are pretty flat. I get overtaken by ultra runners 49km into their race but I don’t care. I enter Crow Park and Rory meets me half way up the hill, runs with me to the finish and claims my medal.

It was a truly amazing course in wonderful weather. As a bonus we got an extra 0.7k too! Coool.

With the ultra still in my legs and knowing the ascent (to give Edinburger’s some context the middle 5k was like 3 times the ascent of Arthur’s Seat) I was hoping to come in under 1:15. With the extra 0.7k I managed 1:13 and my legs actually behaved themselves. And that is a result I am quite pleased with.

Without any further ado I went straight to the sports nutrition tents (just kidding) to ready myself for the swim. A chicken tikka kebab and a can of coke, as always, were the recovery choice of this champion.

KMF 1500m Derwent Isle Open Water Swim

A couple of hours later I found myself in a rubber suit for the second time in the same week. Indeed the second time this year. With a total of 38k swimming this year, it was really just a kickstart to the longer swims later in the year but it looked fun so what the hell.

The water temperature was announced as 11c but I would guess it was nearer 14c as I was one of the first swimmers in for a very protracted entry and I thought it was lovely. With 144 swimmers lined up for a deep water start we got a countdown, that I didn’t hear, and then an air horn, which I did, and we were off.

Then it got weird. No stramash. No banging of limbs. No ducking. I breathed right. No-one. I breathed left. No-one. False start?

I looked back. Nope. We were away. AND I WAS LEADING.

After 100m I was conscious of three swimmers on my left. I breathe right and no-one was there. I started catching arms with the swimmer immediately on my left. We keep clashing until we are off the shore of the Island when we have a bash that stops us dead. I look up and see one swimmer ahead and three in a row with me.

The whole swim is shallow and we were warned to stay out from the Island to avoid tree roots. I come very close to a boulder under the surface which stops the swimmer next to me dead. Around the back of the island it gets choppier and I lose sight of my line. I pick a canoeist to follow and assume that he knows where he is going.

At this point I have a dawning awareness that there isn’t going to be a surge that will leave me mid-field. I am at the pointy end with hardly any training.

As we the beach comes into view I have to dig deep to keep up the pace. I am swimming beyond the ability of my diesel engine. And then the morning 10k starts to make itself felt. First in my calves and then spreading to my hamstrings. That knife edge where crippling cramp is one ill-judged wiggle away. With 200m to go I am swimming with my feet perpendicular to my body position. I am shoulder to shoulder, stroke for stroke with a guy – we will definitely fight it out for a place.

We hit the pontoon together. We climb out for the run, both my hamstrings cramp. Bugger. I spend a moment on my knees trying to re-straighten my legs then I run up the beach to trigger the timing mat. As we get our Bio Security hose down by a National Trust volunteer I notice that I managed to stay up with the speedsters. I pick up my medal with a warm feeling inside (not pee in the wetsuit) that I can still pull off a swim performance if I concentrate.

I grab a zebra burger for recovery and sit on the one spot in Crow Park where there is a data  signal and my result comes through in a text. I am glad I am sitting down. [Warning: HUMBLEBRAG KLAXON] I was 9th overall, 4th male and 1st Veteran (that apparently means I am old and not a cow mender) [HUMBLEBRAG ENDS].

Later, at dinner, the sherpas get animated – “I can’t believe you didn’t swim harder to get on the podium. The kids would love to have seen that”. I humbly remind the sherpas that most of them were on a boat trip during my swim and the podium presentation.

And then we marched the kids up a hill for some amazing evening views.

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So, would I recommend the Keswick Mountain Festival? Absolutely, and I am sure that I will be back there next year. Amazing family atmosphere, great events that use the wonderful outdoors on their doorstep and great marshalls and volunteers.

Top work Keswick!

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Glen Lyon Ultra

Posted on May 9, 2016. Filed under: Glen Lyon Ultra, race report, race review, running, ultra running |

Unkempt beard : check

Race vest that smells like a mangy rodent crawled into it and died : check

Trainers that look like a peat bog troll has been dancing a strip the willow in them : check

Packing for an ultra is easy. After too many years of packing aero wotsits and carbon gizmos and caffeinated, gluten free, super, cyber gels for triathlon there was a levity to final ultra preparations.

Likewise the race briefing. No turgid powerpoint presentations of drafting zones and transition layout: “We have one rule – look after each other out there. Oh, and can everybody swim? The risk assessment says there is a risk of drowning”.

And, of course, no race briefing is complete without some new information: “Yeah and the course may be slightly longer than 30 miles, maybe nearer 31”. Oh.

To recap, back in November I had a brain fart and decided to do an ultra. Something that I had no interest in before and goes to prove that reading blogs is not good for you (you have now been warned).

I toyed with a few races but I kept coming back to BaM Racing, mainly because they make me smile. Their website is called runyabam.com which makes me chuckle every time I type it. Their rules include things like “nae dugs” and “don’t park like a fanny”. They talk like I do, it’s probably a Scottish thing. And more importantly they run races in amazing places. My choice was simple. But which race.

Glen Lyon is in a part of Scotland that is about as remote as it gets. If you follow the signs to The Back of Beyond and then keep driving long after the roads have stopped being roads then you are getting pretty close. Having hiked there before I know how tough the terrain is and how stunning the scenery would be.

We stayed in a wigwam in Morenish and the 17 miles from there to the race briefing took about an hour. Red squirrels, sheep and hydro workers are the only living things seen in these parts. For very good reason – it is hard country – bleak and beautiful and enticing and scary.

The race had been run in 2013 as the Tigh Nam Bodach ultra but it had never caught on and this was being run as a test event for BaM and limited to a small field. Entries opened on 14th February and I was there poised like a coiled serpent to hit the entry button. Which, ironically, was the last thing that I did fast in this race.

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As a dreadnought class runner the course was not ideal for me but what’s the point on taking on a challenge if it’s not a stupid challenge?

It is basically a tale of two glens – a loop of Loch Lyon and then over a muckle great hill, a loop of the neighbouring glen and back over the hill. If you say it fast it doesn’t sound so bad but hitting a big hill at 26 miles was always going to be character building. And so it proved.

 

Just before 9:30am 80 of us stood in the shadow of the colossal Lubreoch Dam getting our final briefing and then we were called to the start line.

At Ironman Austria they played the Austrian national anthem, blasted a cannon and started a fireworks display to mark the start. At the Glen Lyon Ultra Bill blew his whistle.

We were off.

Down a wee hill, up a wee hill, down another wee hill, turn a corner, walk. WALK.

A-MAY-ZING.

Everything they say about ultra is true. 600 metres in we were walking. I LOVE ULTRAS!

I settled into a march, it continued for about a kilometre gaining about 100m and taking us above the dam. I realised I was walking beside Rhona whose West Highland Way race report was one of the contributory factors that had got me into this mess. We chatted briefly as we walked up the hill and then ran together over the next couple of hills as I tried to extract as many tips from her as I could before I realised I needed to slow to a more modest pace.

And also to take some pictures:

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Although the terrain map hints towards a flat first loop it was anything but. The gentle undulations are masked by the gargantuan climbs later in the race. While the ups and downs kinda cancelled each other out the lumps were still of a significant size to the gravitationally challenged.

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The path and terrain were genuinely enjoyable around Loch Lyon and, like an Ironman, we were presented with some water obstacles (hence the risk of drowning). From about 5 miles onwards we were in wet shoes as we crossed 5 rivers – some just above the ankle and, for the stumpy legged like me, the deepest just skirting the gusset.

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Climbing up from the first water obstacle I paused to take a picture back down the Glen and a runner, Laura, offered to take one with me in it. No selfie stick or other dickery involved and no runners obstructed because there were only 80 of us on 15 miles of trail. Here is a rare picture of me obscuring the view of Scotland at it’s very best.

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I ran with Laura for the next 5 or 6 miles as we were moving at a pace that I was pretty comfortable with and knowing that there were still two mahoooosive hills to come.

Just after 9 miles, and after a very deep river crossing we hit the first water station and I filled my empty bottle. Walking up from the water station I had half a packet of BBQ Hula Hoops and we pressed on.  By now there was a noticeable headwind which was slowing progress and in a Glen of this size there are no hiding places.

When the Dam came back into view I was pleased with progress. My initial plan had been to be back at the Dam within 3 hours so that the second loop with the hills could be taken at a more, ahem, leisurely pace. Ideally, I wanted to be finished in 7 hours. This plan still seemed to be on.

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Rhona’s husband was marshalling the end of the Dam and cheered everyone onto the Dam. I’m quite a simple man but running across the top of the dam was probably my favourite part of the day even if the path was a bit clatchy underfoot.

I ran down the banking into the aid station and declined the change of trainers that I had in my drop bag. I chugged half a can of coke, stashed another packet of hula hoops and walked out munching an excellent piece of fruit cake.

And then the climb started. I made no pretence of running. Up and up it went. According to my watch it was 2.8k and about 200m of ascent. By the time I had reached the top I had drunk 500ml of water.

The road is probably marked as tarmac on the OS map but, in reality, I imagine there are roads in the midst of civil war in Syria that are in better nick. It was fine going up but I knew it was going to be challenging on the way down. Not least because I descend like an uncontrolled brick. Only slower.

As I was nearing the top I saw James, the winner, coming down at a sprint. I expected to see a chase pack but it was nearly half an hour before I saw the next runners. A crushing victory.

At the bottom of the descent I took on some water and headed along the high path. The climb had taken the last spring out of my legs and as I went through 20 miles I felt like a leaden hooved clodhopper. I started counting steps to keep up momentum. Walk 100 steps, run 200 steps. I continued this strategy until the next climb.

This loop seemed never ending with kissing gates every few hundred metres. Some full to the ankle with sheep shit. Looking at the low path 200m below was a constant reminder that there were big descents and ascents to come.

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The drop to the low road, when it finally came, was my least favourite part of the day. The path was steep, with switchbacks and treacherous under foot. I had expected to run down but opted to walk most of it to save Mountain Rescue and Air Ambulance a trip to pick pieces of me up to shovel me into a full body stookie.

The return up the glen was uneventful save for the headwind and then I saw the climb. More correctly, I saw a lorry bearing down a path at a 45 degree angle. In this direction the climb was awful. Even more awful. 4.5 kilometres and 280 metres of climbing.

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I filled both bottles at the last water station even though it was (theoretically) only 5k to go. Great words of encouragement from the marshalls. And upwards I continued. Actually, continued is far too vigorous a verb. Upwards I trudged on deadened legs.

My watch beeped 48k in just under 7 hours, but the end was not in sight. Literally not in sight despite being halfway up a mountain.

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Cat passed in the car – I told her I’d done 48k, she smiled and without a word handed me a piece of tablet and drove off.

And then, finally, I could see the dam. It was all downhill from here. I just pretended I couldn’t feel the pain in my feet, but it seemed fair that they were sore having taken 64,000 steps.

I could see the bottom, I crossed the bridged. I walked the wee hill.

I saw Rory running out to meet me and we ran the last 100 metres together.

Beep. 50.7km.  Well, that will save me signing up to do a 50k ultra.

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I can honestly say I loved every second of it, even the bonus 2.7k. Two big lessons for me were to run on much rougher terrain and not just forestry tracks – I wasn’t prepared for the rocky paths. And to practise marching up steep hills ready to run on the other side. My calves and hamstrings really suffered on the hills.

Bam Racing and their volunteer marshalls laid on an incredible race. It was safe and stunning and incredibly well supported. And also, there is a lesson for triathlon here – a £32 race fee and a shitload of great stuff.

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Will I do another ultra?

There is something quite magical about doing a race in a stunning place that is easier to get to on foot than by car.

So, hell yeah I will.

 

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The Edinburgh Half Mara-Hen

Posted on June 2, 2015. Filed under: Edinburgh Half Marathon, Edinburgh Marathon, Edinburgh Marathon Festival, race report |

Of all the things I have ever contemplated that life might have in store for me, standing in the middle of Edinburgh in the louping rain at 7:30 in the morning dressed only in spandex and pink bunny ears was not one of them.  But there I was.  Stone. Cold. Sober.

Also on my list of things that I thought I would never do would be to run in an event at the Edinburgh Marathon Festival.  But there I was.  On a Sunday morning.  At 7:30am.

Although it is my local, I have a dim view of the Edinburgh Marathon Festival.

20150531_074105Firstly, it’s the name.  Bollocks it’s the Edinburgh Marathon.  I have had a house in Edinburgh for 22 years and I have rarely been on any of the streets that the marathon passes through.  In fact, if I generously said that 6 miles were in the city, I would say that I wouldn’t voluntarily walk on several of those miles.  To put it in perspective, imagine the London Marathon finishing in Brentford, or the Rome Marathon deliberately dodging the Colosseum and everything else of any historical note.  Despite having Edinburgh Castle, the Wallace Monument, the Royal Mile and St Giles Cathedral on it’s doorstep the main landmark of the Edinburgh Marathon is the Cockenzie Power Station.  Like a big, steaming dump on the Forth coast it is just always there.  Steaming and ugly.

And my second problem with the Edinburgh Marathon is it’s legendary incompetence.  Past indiscretions have included running out of water, running out of t-shirts, giving out the wrong t-shirts for the event, running out of medals, mis-measuring the course and last year’s “top secret” results debacle.  This is apparently forgiven every year as it fills up with runners presumably in the forlorn hope that this will be the year they get it right.

So in the forlorn hope that this would be the year they get it right, I found myself at the pink start in the pissing rain at 7:30 on a Sunday morning.  How did a sane runner get himself in this position?

Well mainly because I had too many Y chromosomes to attend a hen party.  My BFF Iron Nessie is getting married and on account of being male the *actual* hen party was deemed unsuitable for my attendance.  So we set about an alternative plan.  Straight after Austria we were all Billy Big Baws – “let’s do a half ironman and then go on the lash”.  That plan had to be revisited on account of the lack of swimming and the lack of cycling.  And so we found ourselves entering the Edinburgh Half Marathon.  Mainly out of a morbid curiosity to see what they could make an arse of.

Plans were typically robust.

“7:30 sharp?”

“Yup, usual place?”

“See you then”

We haven’t done “usual time, usual place?” for a while.  Not since we ended up 10 miles apart at the agreed meeting time.

Anyway, miraculously it worked.  But Nessie had forgotten her baggage tag, so in the hosing rain we performed the ultimate knot magic and tied two rucksacks full of our drinking gear together and entrusted them to the baggage guy.  Naively.

Neither of us are really dressing up sorts so I was fairly confident that there would be no need to make tits of ourselves.  Then Nessie pulled out the veil and the pink bunny ears.  Like a good bridesmaid I put them on.  “HAHAHAHAHAH, I fecking knew you didn’t think I’d bring them.  Now lets get rid of them”.  Thank goodness.

We lined up, they counted down, we set off.

The run was pretty uneventful. Disappointingly uneventful given that they could have set it in a stunning city centre, but I mustn’t go on about it.  Somewhere  in the first few miles we heard an alarming noise.  A loud prolonged grunting.  A man sounded likes he was being strangled, or was autoerotically asphyxiating himself without the orange. I have nothing else to say about him.

We had planned it as a social run.  Originally I had said to Nessie “let’s go for 2 hours”, but with 8 short runs between us since London we revised on the start line for 2:15.  This became problematic.  Like a silver suited space hero from the Jetsons I work in kilometres but Nessie like some kind of peat bog troll still clings on to the imperial system.  While it seems unlikely that two intelligent, qualified (if lapsed) accountants could be outwitted to the point of meltdown by their watches, it actually happened.  Our pace was all over the shop as our mid-run calculations blew our tiny, sweaty minds.

The run chat had concerned me before the start.  The last time we ran 21.1km together the chat was pish.  And I mean proper pish.  For example, the crunch characteristics of Galaxy Counters versus Minstrels or whether it is more satisfying to suck or pop a Malteser.  So with a wedding pending I was deeply concerned it was all going to be hair and make up and fake tan.  It pretty much was.

Anyway, after we had passed the Seafield Sewage Works we got a much clearer view of the Cockenzie Power Station as we swooped down on to the Portobello Prom.  About this point it became clear that my feet were still in recovery from London.  To recap briefly about two weeks before Edinburgh they looked like parma ham.  I dreaded to think what was going on in my trainers.

There is a particular cruelty about the Edinburgh Half Marathon.  The route passes the finish line at 10 miles and continues for a soulless 3 miles towards The Pans.  It is dull and the Power Station gets ever closer.

On Saturday evening we got a severe weather warning from EMF threatening rain for the duration and gusting winds of up to 40mph.  This was the only stretch where I noticed the wind as my normally staid hair-do became somewhat flamboyant in a gentle breeze.  Certainly nothing to moan about.

In the last couple of miles we watched a chap unravel in the style that I have only seen in the closing miles of an Ironman.  In his headphones he was having an increasingly voluminous disagreement with his legs.  This continued until, in a Basil Fawlty style attack, he was last seen liberally and loudly dropping the F and C bombs while punching his legs sitting at the side of the road.  Proper weird shit.

In the last three miles my feet really started to give me problems and a few times I had to get Nessie to slow to a walk just to stop the sock material pounding into the tender flesh.  On one of these walks a chap tap/pushed me on the back shouting “c’mon RUN, it’s the best day of your life”.  “No”, I shouted back, “that would have been one of my Ironman”.  Anyway, he was pacing his wife in so we cat and moused with them all the way to the end and finished together after some good fun banter.

IMG-20150531-WA0006We crossed in 2:17, only two minutes behind plan.  Two hours and 17 minutes of fake tan and hair chat.  It felt longer.

We collected our medals and goodie bags and then tried to find the baggage lorries.  They were very well hidden.  The lady at the Info Point had a queue of people asking where all the articulated lorries were.  Eventually we found them, kinda where she said but with absolutely no signage.

There, we also found a bunch of poor volunteers who had been so badly lead that they had just given up.  It took us 55 minutes to get our bags back and that was only because or bags were quite distinctive and the strategy had deteriorated to “DOES ANYONE RECOGNISE ANYTHING?”.  Although it pissed me off, more importantly, it was dangerous.  It was cold and Edinburgh had obviously saved a fraction of a penny by not providing foil blankets.  Completely irresponsible race organisation and apparently not the first time they have made an arse of the baggage.  A poor and unfair way to treat volunteers and had the weather been as EMF had issued in their severe weather warning there would, without a doubt, have been casualties.

Once we had the bags we went back to the Info Point for advice how to get out of the field.  And then we completely ignored it.  Used google maps, found the service bus and we were in the pub by 1pm.  Beer, burgers and cocktails.  Bed by midnight.  The perfect day out with my buddy.

To re-cap:

The spectators and volunteers who had come out in the pouring rain to cheer us on – double thumbs up.

Ignoring all the advice from EMF and walking towards Edinburgh to catch the service bus – thumbs up.

The “Edinburgh Marathon” route – double thumbs down.

The organisers and the baggage system – double thumbs gouged in my own eyes.

Where next?  Well, I am now hitting the pool in readiness for the Great Scottish Swim 5k.  Like some kind of aquatic dumbass.

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The One When Iron Nessie Did Ironman Austria

Posted on September 23, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, Klagenfurt, new ironman tips, race report, race review, run, swim |

You know when something is so overdue that you had forgotten that we were expecting it in the first place?  Well, that’s where I was with Nessie’s Ironman Austria race report.  She likes to take her time.

To cut a long story short Nessie, a veteran of waaaay too many marathons for one so young, saw me do an Ironman in 2011 and after pumping her gums about it for two years decided she wanted a piece of that.  Throughout the report she refers to me as IronCoach (and occasionally Stumpy on account of my freakishly short legs).  Possibly because I taught her to swim, maybe because I picked her up from the ground every time she fell off her bike, but most likely because every Monday night for 30 weeks I sent her a programme telling her how to organise her life and to MTFU.

Anyway, over to Nessie.  I would recommend a coffee and some cake.  Seriously a large thermos and a whole cake.  Anyway…….

 


 

Frank Shorter, 1972 Olympic Marathon Gold Medallist, said “At mile 20, I thought I was dead. At mile 22, I wished I was dead. At mile 24, I knew I was dead. At mile 26.2, I realized I had become too tough to kill.”  Well at mile 140.6 on Sunday 29th June, I felt like the love child of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Sylvester Stallone when I heard the race announcer roar the 6 words that had occupied my every waking (and sleeping) moment for the last 12 months –

 “VANESSA JACOB. YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”.

As they’d say in Dublin – deadly buzz!

 

My Iron journey officially started at 4.08pm on Monday 1st July 2013 when I received the email confirming my entry to Ironman Austria 2014. It had unofficially started 2 years prior to that when my pal, Stumpy had completed Ironman Regensburg. As soon as he had been ordained into the Ironman Brotherhood I knew that I wanted some of that action. It was just a matter of finding the time and commitment to do it. When Stumpster said he had been granted permission to do another IM I knew that I was going to join him for the ride.

 

For the first 6 months post IM entry my days were occupied with pre-season training (a bit of swimming, a bit of cycling, a bit of running).  In January I received my training plan. In the profound words of Bad Boy Martin Lawrence, “this shit got real”. Literally.  The training plan I received had 3 sections

  1. Shit that is coming up
  2. Shit you need to do
  3. Shit you have done.

No one could ever accuse my IronCoach (Stumpy!) of sugar coating things.

 

Now I’m usually a fairly competitive person and have rarely entered a race prescribing to the notion that it’s the taking part that counts. I am also, however, not a total buffoon. I had done my homework and was painfully aware of the pitfalls that littered the Ironman race. When I signed up for Ironman Austria on 1st July 2013 I therefore only had one objective – to cross the finish line smiling and not foaming at the mouth requiring urgent medical attention.  I can say with absolute honesty that I had no interest or desire in achieving a target time for IM – the 17 hours the race organisers allowed was enough of a target for me!

 

My “Just get round” plan involved 3 swimming sessions, 3 cycling sessions and 3 running sessions a week. You didn’t have to be Stephen Hawkins to figure out that this meant that over 6 days (I was granted one rest day) I would have to do 3 training double headers… and then some. I wasn’t sure what was going to pack in first – my legs or my washing machine.

 

The 6 months between receiving the plan and boarding the plane to Salzburg passed in a whirlwind of training, eating, sleeping, and working. Over that time I spent

  • 77 hours swimming – approx. 231 kilometres or 9,240 lengths of a 25m pool – that’s a whole lots of budgie smugglers to dodge!
  • 120 hours cycling – approx. 3000 kilometres – 4 times the distance from Edinburgh to London
  • 73 hours running – approx. 770 kilometres – equivalent of over 18 marathons. Eddie Izzard eat your heart out

 

I discovered that the key to a successful IM campaign is not having the fastest bike or the lightest trainers; it’s having a support network to see you through the highs and lows. Balancing IM training with life is not an easy task but without an understanding other half it would be nigh on impossible. My other half backed me all the way (and even proposed halfway through the IM journey!). He never made me feel guilty for disappearing off for hours on end, decked head to toe in my finest lycra. Although I’ve since discovered that he may in fact have an Xbox addiction and my long periods of absence provided him the perfect opportunity to satisfy his gaming needs!!

 

Besides a wee sniffle I got through my 6 month training plan injury and ailment free. But as I entered my 14 day tapering phase disaster struck – I picked up a serious case of the lurgy/manflu/ebola. Feck.  Cue desperation measures and 2 weeks of quarantine in my flat inhaling large quantities of lemsip, night nurse, day nurse, paracetamol, menthol crystals, Vicks vaporub etc etc. Thankfully I started to feel better the day before we were due to travel and by the time we had plane, trained and automobiled it to Klagenfurt I was showing clear signs of recovery and no longer at risk of decimating an entire rainforest with my tissue consumption.

 

When we arrived in Klagenfurt to hook up with IronCoach, Pam and Rory I was certain I would be on that start line.  But I was even more certain that I would have to play it safe and stick to the game plan if I was to meet my IM objective of finishing without needing the help of a medical professional.

 

The day before race day was a hectic one. We had to register, attend the pre race briefing, have our first open water swim (of the year!!), collect my bike (one of the best decisions of my IM journey was to transport my bike to Austria with ShipMyTri bike – an outstanding service!!), pack transition bags and then rack bike and transition bags. All the while eating and drinking like it was our last day on earth. We left the apartments at 8.30am and got back at 5.30pm. Then it was time to pack bags for the morning, call the parentals to reassure the lurgy had passed and I was feeling ok, eat dinner and get to bed. Not quite the leisurely day I had in mind.

 

On race day the alarm went off at 3.45am – It wasn’t tiredness that plagued me when I arose; it was absolute mind numbing, arse clenching fear. After 12 months of preparation, D day was here and for the millionth time since signing up for IM I asked myself “what have I gotten myself  into?”.

 

Brief text conversation ensued with IronCoach:

IronCoach – “You up?”

Me – “Yup”

IronCoach – “Fuck”

Me – “Double fuck”

 

It was reassuring to hear my pal was also feeling the fear.

 

I launched myself into pre-race preparation. Quick shower, liberal application of sun cream, kit on, bag checked (Garmin, energy bars, water bottles,  tri top, tri shorts all present ),  bowl of porridge, jam sandwich, litre of water, bag checked (again). Time to go.

 

Into the car. Out of the car. Into T1. Out of T1. Into wetsuit.

 

I staggered through those early hours on 29th June in a trance and bar Rory serenading us with “Let It Go” in the car and my bursting into tears as we said our goodbyes at the start line, I really don’t remember that much of it.

 

The swim was my biggest fear of the day – I am no Michael Phelps. In fact I’m not even Michelle De Bruin (nee Smith) before the performance enhancing substances. Think Eddie the Eel…… with armbands and a rubber ring. As I stood on the beach of the Worthersee at 6.59am that morning, surrounded by my fellow nutters all rubber suited and latex capped up, the iron demons were at their loudest – “This is madness. 140.6 miles is a long way to go in car, let alone on 2 legs. Just hop the barriers and go have some bratwurst and beer etc etc”.

 

But then I remembered the game plan and IronCoach’s words of wisdom – hang back, avoid the human washing machine, take it easy but keep moving forward, get out of the water and you’re on the home stretch. (I had decided early on that if I was to get through IM I would need to take it in bite sized chunks on the day so I conveniently forgot about the 180km bike ride and marathon that awaited me on the other side of the swim!!).

 

The 10 second warning rang out. Calm and silence descended. And then the starter cannons went off – it was time to man up.

 

I had positioned myself at the very back of the pack on the beach (I was practically in the car park) so that I could take my sweet ass time setting off on the swim. As my fellow ironman pledges catapulted themselves into the stramash I tentatively tip toed in. Now I had fully prepared myself to be the last person into the water (and also out of the water –  my target swim time was 2 hours 19 mins 59 secs), so I was a little shocked to see I wasn’t the only person who looked like they were out for an early morning paddle. Seeing other people hang back really helped to calm my nerves – I wasn’t going to be on my own out there.

 

After 5/10 mins of wading into the water it was time to start swimming…. Or drown. Heart pounding, I dunked my head. Did I have a moment of absolute panic? Yes! But the amazing thing – it was literally that.  A moment.

 

The water was actually quite pleasant (compared to some of the arctic puddles I’ve experienced in Scotland over the last few years) and cold shock did not strike.Some breast stroke to bring down the heart rate and regulate my breathing, and I was off.  The 5 minute “head start” I’d given the rest of the field paid off and for the most part I had clear water ahead. Along that stretch out to the first turn buoy I witnessed some interesting swimming styles – one chap appeared to be doing breast stroke arms with front crawl legs. I do wonder if he made it out of the water.

 

Pull, breath, sight, repeat.

 

Before I knew it I had hit the second turn buoy, (without any kicks to the head) and was on my way to the canal….. Or so I thought. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite make out where the canal opening was, so that particular segment of the swim involved around 300 metres more than the race officials actually required.  Not to worry I made it eventually and readied myself for “the fastest swim of my life” that had been promised on the race briefing. Yeah, right! As promised the water was shallow. But it was not fast. In fact for the first time that day I found myself in a bit of a melee. It appeared everyone was struggling to swim in a straight line and I had to reposition myself a number of times to avoid flaying limbs. All the while trying to expel the twigs and leafs that were trying to invade my lungs.

 

10603645_10151965569243039_8516843335594483099_nThe spectators were out in full force along the canal and as it was so narrow they had a great view of the action. As we passed under the first bridge over the canal I heard Al and Pam shouting my name – no idea how they spotted me in the scrum of white caps but it did my heart no end of good!

 

Pull, breath, sight, repeat.

 

I saw the turn to the swim exit and could have cried with relief. I’d survived the swim – woooohoooooo!!!!

 

THE BIKE

 

I had opted to swim “Garmin-less” so when I was unceremoniously dragged out of the canal I had no idea how long I’d been in the water for. Quick check of the clock as I trotted Bambi like to T1 told me it was 2 hours since the Pro’s set off – wooohooo that meant I’d exited the water in 1hr 45. Incredibly pedestrian time but I was delighted, I had until 5.15pm now to get round the bike course.

 

T1 was a leisurely affair for me. As well as forgoing the Garmin I had also opted to wear a swimsuit under my wetsuit – I thought the day was going to be long enough without having to set off on 180km bike ride in wet tri gear. Great on paper but in reality the whole drying/changing process took quite some time (even with the help of the T1 wetsuit strippers). Add to that an extended portaloo stop as the effects of the swim nerves kicked in and I was 16 mins 52 secs in transition. I’m sure most triathletes would have me disbarred from the sport for that but I was one third of the way toward becoming an Ironman and feeling on top of the world.

 

Now unlike the other 2,915 Ironman pledges I had decided not to upgrade my entry level road bike in any way – in retrospect I should have at least gotten some tri bars. I felt like I had shown up to a Harley Davidson meet on a BMX….. with spoky dokeys.  My steed is called Bob.  I know you’re not supposed to judge a book by its cover, or the guy with a full aero helmet straddling a carbon beast, but I’ll admit that seeing the sweet rides getting racked at transition had intimidated me (and brought out my green eyed monster).  They filled me with fear for the bike course. I had told everyone in the run up to IM that if got through the swim I knew I could make round the bike and run courses – it was time to test my mettle.

 

Bob was found with relative ease (another added bonus of hanging back in the swim – most folk have already set out on the bike by the time you finish!!) and I was on my way to the mount line. The race announcer was in full flight by now and as I clipped in to set off he bellowed “And next is Vanessa Jacob from Ireland” – Needless to say I felt like a champ. A quick thumbs up and smile for the camera as I passed Al, Pam and Roar and I was off.

 

The game plan for the bike was pretty straight forward – eat/drink every 20 mins and keep a steady pace of 20 to 25 kph. Could I have gone faster? Yes. Was I willing to take the chance of bonking and feckin up my chances on the marathon? No.

 

The first 30km of the bike course was pretty uneventful. Breathe, eat, drink, repeat (while silently chanting “please don’t get a puncture, please don’t get a puncture”). As IronCoach has said in his outrageously long race report, large segments of the bike course weren’t particularly well supported so when I did see a random Austrian perched on a deckchair, necking a brewski I gave them my biggest grin and thumbs up. This elicited a cheer of “zuper, zuper!!!” and “HOP, HOP, HOP” every time. Hearing those words never got boring.

 

On the road out to Faaker See there was a two way stretch where we crossed paths with pledges heading out towards Rupertiberg. There I spotted IC in his jaunty yellow pirate outfit – a shout of “Dougie” and he saw me. “You ok?”, “Yep”, “You?”, “Yep” was the sum total of the conversation. He was looking strong and looked to be on track to shave a chunk of time off his last IM time. Then it was onto the Faaker See with me.

 

IM Austria boasts a largely flat and downhill course with 2 significant climbs –the first at Faaker See and the second at Rupertiberg. Race briefing had confirmed my hopes/dreams that each loop consisted of approx. 55km flat/descent and 35km climbing. Totes manageable….. at least on the first lap. Second lap was far more challenging particularly as then the heavens opened, the thunder roared and I looked like a drowned rat for what wouldn’t be the last time that day!

 

10632742_10151965570193039_4236030404538668150_nThe first real ascent was fairly unremarkable – short sharp climb, followed by a longer, shallower drag for about 6km. At the top, however, waited a wee treat in the form of a bottle of Coke – the ironman equivalent of crack cocaine.

 

I had caught up to a pack of riders about 20km into the first loop and rode with them for most of the lap. I found myself in an intriguing game of cat and mouse – I would pass them on the uphills, they would zoom by me on the downhills shouting “wwwweeeeeeeeeeee”. This baffled me – on the ascents I overtook them with relative ease yet on the descents they flew by me. I would only find out after IM that gravity was playing a huge part in their glee…. Now I’m not in any way a small girl but a few dozen Greggs sausage rolls would have considerably upped my pace downhill (that and a set of tri bars).

 

About 25km after Faaker See we hit Rupertiberg –somehow  I had blanked the image of the course profile map from my mind and was a little shocked to arrive at the bottom of it to discover that it consisted of not 1, nor 2 but 3 short vertical climbs. Feck. A very slow ascent ensued but I finished it feeling breathless and not in need of a stretcher. Result.  Another bottle of coke grabbed from one of the feed station attendants and I was on my way back to transition to repeat the loop again.

 

A check of the watch – loop one done in 3hrs 35 mins. Again unlikely to get a call up to represent Ireland at the next Olympics but bang on target pace and legs were still feeling strong.

 

Eat, drink, breath, repeat. (Interspersed with chants of “almost there”, “please don’t get a puncture” and singing “Eye of the Tiger”)

 

Needless to say there were some low moments on that second lap when the Iron demons started to whisper in my ear. However they were no match for 6 months of training, an all-consuming need to get my grubby paws on that all important finishers medal and a paddy off her head on “iso” and coca cola.

 

As I cycled down the final stretch into T2 I spotted Pam, bouncing up and down shouting “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE”. Then as I dismounted I saw Al being restrained by marshals from jumping the barriers and doing the triathlon equivalent of a pitch invasion. “NESSSSSSSSSSS YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!!!”. Hahahahaha.  It would appear we had all fooled ourselves into thinking an actual real life 26.2 mile marathon was IM code for a 5km run.

 

I wobbled into T2 (think bambi again but this time on ice….. in a pair of manolos) to dump Bob and assess what damage 7.5 hours sitting on a bike had done. Arms, legs, back, shoulders, feet…… all stiff but no real pain. Result.

 

My hands however were a different matter entirely. Cyclist’s palsy had struck at about 120km, resulting in a loss of all power in my left hand (for the last 60km I had to operate the left shifter with my right hand….which was slightly inconvenient. Given the next/final part of the journey to IM involved running I figured the hand wasn’t going to be a problem. Unless of course I ended up crawling at some stage and let’s face it if it came to that a sore hand was likely to be the least of my problems.

 

I won’t go into details on the chaffing, let’s just say there was a lot.

 

I then got down to official T2 business – visit to the portaloo, fresh socks, cycling shoes swapped for trainers, helmet replaced with cap, generous application of sun cream (the afternoons biblical storm had been replaced by the mercury hitting somewhere north of 25 degrees and blazing sunshine), bottle of water necked and reassurances from the marshals that I now had over 7 hours to drag my sorry irish ass around 42.2km.

 

THE RUN

 

1453425_10151965570333039_1179726102484402620_nAl was waiting at the transition exit to dish out hugs and check that I was still compos mentis.  As I suspected regular updates were being sent back to Ireland on my mental and physical state. My mam and dad were glued to a pc anxiously awaiting news that I had crossed the finish line – they had a VERY long day.

 

The run course was 2 (quite narrow) laps of a (kind of) figure of 8 – taking in the park which housed the Iron Village, Krumpendorf (a municipality apparently – I think that’s Austrian for small housing estate but can’t be sure!), the Lend Canal and Klagenfurt town centre. It was packed with spectators and the atmosphere was electric – hardly surprising given 99% of the spectators had been on the sauce since breakfast. After the relative solitude of the last 7.5 hours on the bike this was exactly what I needed to carry me to the finish line.

 

I’d soon discover however that the downside of this 2 lap, figure of 8 formation was that you passed within touching distance of the finish FOUR times before you got to head into the lights. This for me was to be one of the hardest things about the run segment of Ironman Austria.

 

Now the game plan for the marathon was to start with a walk, then after a mile or so follow a run (jog)/walk strategy (4 mins on, 1 min off) for as long as I could. Unfortunately my brain went bat shit crazy with the buzz of the course and I foolishly started to run straight out of transition. About 800m into the 42.2km I  face planted. A full on comedy, flat on the face, looking like an arse, face plant.  And for the second time that day I found myself being unceremoniously dragged to my feet as 2 of my fellow IM pledges came to my rescue. “You ok??”, “Yep think so”, “Well GO GO GO GO!!!.

 

Sense returned and I settled into the planned walk/run strategy.  I hit up the first aid station and guzzled water, iso and coke in an attempt to combat the searing heat and inevitable dehydration. There was a dazzling array of fruit, energy bars and saltines on offer but my tummy was starting to revolt from being subjected to cliff bars and soreen since 7am so I politely declined the grub.

 

I’ve heard and read a lot about the “Death March” and like most stuff on the tinternet I had chalked it up as exaggerated Ironman folk lore.

 

It.  Is.  Not.

 

It was absolute carnage out on the course. Sure the pro’s/age groupers were bounding gazelle like to the finish line but the rest of the field were shuffling like cast offs from the Walking Dead.  Pledges who had lapped me on the bike were now sitting road side dribbling on their expensive tri suits. It was clear that this last leg was about survival and I quickly realised that if I was to avoid slipping into the Ironman abyss I was going to need something to distract me from the miles that lay ahead of me. So I started chatting to my fellow competitors.

 

I met Marie from London who was on her 2nd attempt at becoming an Ironman (she had collapsed at mile 21 of the run the year before. She had gone out too fast and didn’t focus on nutrition – take note). She was really hurting and I would find out later that she unfortunately didn’t make it to the finish line this time either. I then met a guy from Cork, who owned a bar in Klagenfurt and invited me to a post- race lock in.  Then another Paddy, a Brummie and an Israeli.  I realise now that this reads like the opening line of a bad joke.

 

About 10km in I saw IronCoach. We stopped for a hug and a chat – and a telling off from some of the grumpier pledges that we were standing in their way. I offered to hug them too but they were too preoccupied with finding the next portaloo.

 

1908426_10151965570498039_8139347546460581133_nWe both then waddled off on our separate ways with calls of “see you soon”. Oh the naivety – I had another 4 hours to go! I then met another chap who I recognized from out on the bike. “Nice flower!!” – I hadn’t started to hallucinate; he had a pink chrysanthemum stuck into his cap.  We settled into a comfortable pace and ended up “running” the rest of the course together.

 

As I made my way out to Klagenfurt for the first time I saw Pam and Roar again. Rory was playing a blinder – it was now nearly 7.30pm (he’d been up since 4.30am) and he was still dishing out hugs and kisses.

 

I plodded on chatting to my new pal Mike and before I knew we had rung the charity bell in the town centre and were headed back to the park to start round 2.

 

The crowds on that first lap were incredible.  They were going wild – waving cowbells, flags and pints of Stiegl. They cheered us as if we were Olympic Athletes, and any acknowledgement of their support sent them into a frenzy. “Go Ironlady Go!!!!”.( FACT – 2,916 athletes registered for IM Austria. Only 374 of them were women.) There was a large Irish contingent in the crowd (we’re everywhere) and one particular group became my personal cheering squad on the run – traditional irish phrases of encouragement were bellowed every time they saw me “G’wan ye good thing” and “Keep her lit”.

 

The course started to quieten down on my second lap as the speedier pledges started to make their way to the finishers chute. The finish line party sounded in full swing as I went by for the third time! 13 miles to go – reassurances from the diehard spectators that “the hard part was over” and that “almost there”!! At least I think that’s what they were saying – they had started to slur their words at this stage.

 

It was then that the tummy cramps, chaffing, sore feet etc. became harder to ignore and the timed run/walk strategy was abandoned. Walking was no longer dictated by the chirp of the Garmin timer, our crumbling bodies were now firmly in control of when we would run and when we would walk. It’s said that the body will do what the mind tells it – well after almost 14 hours of activity my body was starting to revolt.

 

The portaloos also took a turn for the worst then. Inevitable I suppose considering they were servicing almost 3000 athletes with the triathlon equivalent of “delhi belly”.

 

As the sun started to set the heat finally started to abate. Wooohhoos all round….. for about 20 mins. And then the heavens opened again and we were subjected to yet another bout of thunder, lightning and pissings of rain. Ironman started to lose it’s glamour in those last 10 miles as we squelched along in the darkness babbling mindlessly to distract ourselves from the task in hand. It was here that IM camaraderie really kicked in – at one stage there was a group of 5 of us grinding out the miles. Comments of “Sure what else would you be doing on a Sunday?”, “That goddamn bar better still be open when I get there”, “Has chaffing ever been fatal?” etc etc.

 

I really only have 2 gripes with IM Austria – the first is the lack of lighting along the run course. Cut off is midnight so common sense should tell you that many pledges are going to still be out on the course when night falls. A few torches wouldn’t have gone astray. My second gripe is that the last competitor does not get the same treatment as the first. As were headed back towards the hallowed finish line aid stations were being packed up – there was still over 2 hours left on the race clock and the pledges still out on the course needed refreshments more than anyone had all day at that stage.

 

As we power walked up the canal we finally started to hear the music booming from the finish line. At 2km to go were finally “almost there”. The adrenaline started pumping again and we broke into a trot.

 

10635699_10151965570118039_5841724345701894527_n1km to go and the pace picked up.

 

500m to go. Narrowly avoided disaster as Mike had a rush of blood to the head and started to run off in the wrong direction – he clearly felt he hadn’t put enough miles in that day.

 

200m to go . Something incredible happened. A friend and former colleague of mine passed away in 2010 following a stroke. Linda was 46. I’ve done a lot of fundraising for the Stroke Association in her memory over the last couple of years (shameless plug https://www.justgiving.com/VJacob/ ) and whenever I race I always think of her. Well at 200m to go they started playing her favourite song. I like to think she’d orchestrated that especially for me.

 

100m to go. I’m turning into the finishers chute.

 

20m to go. I’m now bouncing like a lunatic. It’s fair to say I thoroughly milked my final metres.

 

No more metres to go. “VANESSA JACOB. YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”. Absolutely feckin brilliant!!!!

 

A friend sent a quote to me shortly before Ironman. Mohammed Ali said “ I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’ Well, now  I am a champion.

 

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Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond The Finish Line

Posted on July 16, 2014. Filed under: Austria, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, race report, race review |

Were the last 200 metres really 200 metres?  It mattered not to me.  The music got louder, the Venga Boys boomed as I approached.   The finish chute started well before the bleachers with a 90 degree right hand turn at the end.  As I ran up the blue carpet I high 5’d the crowd, shouting “THANK YOU” the whole way.  I can’t remember to who or why now but it wasn’t important. 0745_088947 Turning into the bleachers the noise was overwhelming, the lights blinding.  I could focus on nothing but not tripping over the ramp on the finish line.  All the sights became a blur, the music became a noise.  But it wasn’t a slow motion run like Steve Austin.  It was accelerated, an LP on 45, MY moment accelerating away from me but then I heard what I had waited a year to hear.   “DOUGIE FROM GREAT BRITAIN, YOU ARE AN IRONMAAAAAN”   Again.   I had finished a second Ironman.  I finished in thirteen hours fifty three minutes and twenty one seconds.  Slower than I hoped for but a PB of 1 hour and 5 minutes. 0745_093897 A volunteer put a medal over my head.  Job done.  Mission Accomplished.  Two time Ironman.   I stood and looked back at the finish line and a tall, distinguished looking volunteer put his hand on my shoulder and shook my hand “congratulations Ironman”.  Reading the race book the next day, I saw his picture.  He wasn’t a volunteer – he was the chief exec of Ironman Europe.  I will forget moments of the Ironman, and I will probably always be a sceptic of the WTC but I will always remember the warmth of my first congratulations.  THAT is how to be a leader.   Behind the bleachers , I saw Pam and Roar through a wire fence and got them beer and water from the athletes bar at the finish line.  They had as long a day as I had!   The night before as we debated travel plans I decided to let the sherpas have a fun day and volunteered to drive.  So unlike Regensburg where I sunk a pint on the finish line I would have to wait.  Let the waiting begin.   1865As I had approached the finish line I had noticed the sirens but only when I was walking towards the IronDome did I notice the steady flow of ambulances leaving the massage area.  The whole tent flashed with blue lights as an ambulance departed with some fallen Ironman every few minutes.  As I had felt, the heat had taken it’s toll.   In the Iron Dome I started to minesweep the food.  The first thing I came across was a pizza.  I bit it.  It expanded in my mouth like some kind of crazy foam, drawing the last drips of moisture out of my body.  I had to ram my fingers in my mouth to prize it out.  Then I had turkey and rice and a pint of coke.  I looked up at the big screen and the rain had started.  The rain was incredible, so incredible that I expect Noah was put on standby.   Wrapped in a foil blanket I picked up my change bag and proceeded to the shower.  As I stood in my foil blanket outside the shower portakabin two Irish chaps that I had seen many times around the course popped out.  “Well done Ironman”, was the mutual greeting.  Followed by “We are not designed for this fecking heat Dougie”.  Cue a lot of nodding of bright red baldy heads.   The shower block was like I imagine a Crimean field hospital.  At some point it was probably pristine but nearly 14 hours later it was Special.  Very Special indeed.  At some point, someone had used their foil blanket to separate them from the horrors on the floor.  By the time I got there it was like some kind of biohazard lasagne.  Everything that could be extracted from the body was trapped in those layers  – oozing, squidging below foot, smelling.  And the showers were blocked so in the tray was a diluted version of that bio sauce.  The showers were cold, freezing cold, but who cared?  I scraped the Lend canal, the road debris, the gels, the sweat and the flies from me.  And then I hopped (not really, I had just hobbled a marathon) from foot to foot as I attempted to get dressed without falling in the putrid muck.   Back in the Iron Dome I went to collect my t-shirt.  A volunteer started to hand me a large, winked and replaced it with an extra large.  It seems that after 13 hours I was still big boned. I met Michael and Nick, congratulated them and left them with their beers as I headed to another beer tent to meet Pam, Al and Roar and hear of Ness’s progress.  Because the weather had turned so foul I still had a foil blanket over my head so I could go anywhere without any challenge from security.  By now we had thunder and lightning so we watched the final hours of the Ironman from the beer tent, updating Iron Mobile on the ipad.  As soon as we knew Ness went through 40k, Al went out to the grandstand with a tiny lady brolly and we watched on the big screen in the tent.  We whooped as she came in but, heck, she didn’t half milk the finish chute experience.   I set off for the mile long walk to fetch the car still wrapped in my foil blanket.  It was about 30 minutes to midnight.  The run course was pitch black and it was difficult to spot the final, hobbling runners in the dark.  They were going to finish before cut-off so to each one I shouted “5 minutes and you’re home.  Good work Ironman”.  I saw one last running silhouette, under a bridge, just before I left the path.  A petite lady, on her own, in the pitch black.  “You’re nearly there.  You OK Ironman?”  Booming back from under the bridge “FUCK YEAH”.   Gulp.  Smokey.   Attempting to not drown from the bucketing rain helped me forget about my crippled feet but as I approached the car the adrenaline was wearing off and my purposeful stride degenerated to a hobble.  Ten minutes later, I had the whole sherpa crew in the car with Rory enjoying the sleep of a 3 year old Sherpa that had been dragged out of his bed at 4:45am.  But the athletics were not over.  Still, in the pissing rain, I had to recover my bike.  Unlike Regensburg three years before, when I had an “If I ever see that effing thing again……” moment, I had enjoyed the bike and could even contemplate future cycle trips.  However, I had to get the bike into the roof box.  I had to give Al instant tuition as the rain tumbled down on us how to remove the wheels and collapse the bike to fit in as I stumbled about like a stiff legged zombie.  It was a new record for loading the car.   Back in the driver’s seat and I took one look at Ness.  “Kebab and chips?”.  And there began 30 minutes of the saddest quest imagineable.    You cannot find anywhere to buy chips after midnight in Austria.  Or kebabs.  Austria’s dark secret.  The shame of a beer nation.  At that moment Austria slipped in my affections.  Back at the apartment we demolished a pizza, two large family sized packets of crisps and several beers.  And sometime after 2am we slept the sleep of Ironmen.  Uncomfortable, sun scorched and starving. 1871 Like every good Iron adventure the journey ended at the merchandise store on Monday morning. Hell, if you finish an Ironman you need the finisher’s kit to make sure everyone KNOWS ABOUT IT. 1809 And it’s not all about what happens out in the lake, in the canal or on the road.  Huge cheer for Pam, Al and Roar who were the best sherpas in Klagenfurt.  It turns out that all they need is beer, pizza, football and the Lego Movie.  Chapeau the sherpas.   And that’s that.  A few people have said that the Ironman Austria Odyssey has put them off Ironman.  I only write about the stuff that sticks in my mind, there are hours and hours of sublime “alone” time in the most beautiful countryside breathing fresh air.  Ironman day and the preparation for it is just the most special time.  Obviously it is tough.  If it was easy every one would switch off the X Factor, get off the sofa and do it.  But only the really mentally tough can manage it.  In my opinion, it is the ultimate self supported event for the ordinary Joe.  Ironman makes you your own hero.   The most common question I get asked is “Will you do another?”.  In the last two weeks of training the answer would have been a resounding “NO”.  Now it is “maybe”.  I have made peace with the Ironman; Regensburg left me frustrated that I didn’t do my best.  There is little that makes me feel as alive as I do when I am preparing for an extreme challenge.  So, while I have no urgent need to go long again, I am old enough and wise enough to never say never.   Hopefully in the next few days I can complete the Ironman Austria archive with Iron Nessie’s first time Ironman race report.  When I found her she couldn’t swim and still marvelled at the science of pneumatic tyres.  Now she is an Ironman.  However, English isn’t her first language so it might take a while.   It’s been a hell of a journey.  Again.  Ironman Austria, over and out.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE  

Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond The Finish Line

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Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Posted on July 12, 2014. Filed under: Austria, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman regensburg, ironman tips, Klagenfurt, marathon, race report, race review, run |

When it comes to the Ironman, run is often a euphemism.  “A euphemism for what?”, you may ask – because it is indeed a foot race after a swim and a cycle.  Well, it is a euphemism for a never ending, shart stained, dehydrated hobble-waddle.  But that might put people off so we soften the description.

Let me share some important statistics with you:

Number of people who say “I will swim and ride conservatively and then smash the run because I am a runner” – trillions

Number of people planning to smash the run who actually succeeded  – absolutely feck all

Percentage of those that looked over the abyss but still crossed the line humbled and stripped of most of their dignity – 100%

These statistics are more directional than strictly actually factual but, more seriously, there are two types of runner in the world – those that have done the Ironman marathon and those that think they know what it is like to run 26.2miles in the sun just after cycling 112miles and swimming 2.4miles.  Without spoiling the surprise too much I can exclusively reveal that it’s just not fun except, perhaps, if you are winning at Kona.  Your legs feel like all the spring has been taken out of them; your stomach feels like a bucket filled with a heady cocktail of left over chip fat and all the fizzy drinks from MacDonalds; and your whole body feels like you have been put in a sauna wrapped in tinfoil.  It’s only really a question of whether you feel like that at mile 1 or at mile 26.

And the really tough part is that once you have done an Ironman marathon you can’t unknow what it feels like so, although I finished the bike feeling strong, I had a sense of impending trepidation (or more accurately doom) about this particular jog.  I picked up my run bag, sat in the changing tent and started the taut, laborious process of of bending down to loosen my cycling shoes.  While I could get my hands roughly to my feet I was tantalisingly short of the buckle.  Thereafter followed a process not unlike trying to touch my nose with my elbow.  Or more accurately trying to identify my arse from my elbow.  But removing my cycling shoes was quite important to me as running a marathon in cleats was likely to be uncomfortable.  After what seemed like an eternity bent double, bouncing my top half towards my feet a volunteer saw me contorting like the work experience guy at Cirque du Soleil and with two finger presses released me from my shackles.

Something unexpected slipped from my sock – my right foot had a bluish tinge and was quite swollen.  An elephant foot.  It was unexpected as it felt fine and I had no indication on the bike anything was wrong but, hey, a bit of colour on my celtic white feet just added some glamour.

As I started on my preparations I looked up and noticed a lady had strayed into the male changing tent – she had either got lost or had some really odd fetishes.  As she loosened her cycling shoes this particularly hairy, Spanish Ron Jeremy lookalike next to her dropped his tri suit and began the thorough process of applying vaseline to his entire body finishing with some particularly noisy slopping around his wee fella.  Whether either of them noticed the other will remain in the sanctity of the changing tent.  The Somme of the Ironman.

I popped in a gel, changed my socks and shoes, lubed, put a bottle of water over my head, handed my bag to a volunteer who gave me a sweaty hug and I set off to SMASH the marathon.  Except I didn’t.  I squealed like a puppy that had been stood on.  My right foot had a blinding pain that shot right up my leg.  Another step.  Same pain.  Bugger – this wasn’t in the SMASH IT plan.  I’m not sure I can describe the pain but basically mid foot, on the out side of my foot the last three toes and the sole of my foot felt like they were somewhere between an inferno and a bruise.  I assumed I had swimming goggles or something in my shoe so I took it off but there was nothing there.  Something was wrong with my foot.  This was going to feel like a long 26,2 miles.

Leaving T2 I reset my ailing Garmin and changed the display so at least I could see time and distance in the 4mm of screen that was visible.  This meant that I could stick with my tried and tested 4min run, 1 min walk strategy.  I did a kind of awkward walk/limp for the first 4 minutes which took me out of transition, over the bridge at swim exit and into the park.  At the end of 4 minutes there was no chance I would walk as the well beered crowd was three deep – pretty much the first group of people we had seen since the swim exit.  Every time you contemplated a walk the crowd went wild so I pushed on.  With a kind of one legged, limp, walk, hop I was already developing the fear that my Ironman shuffle was going to develop into the sideways run so often seen in the latter stages of an Ironman.  I suspect that I looked like someone who has tripped and then pretends to run as they look over their shoulder.  I was that awkward.  About this time I also discovered that it was unadulterated agony to turn right.  Which left me in a bit of a pickle as the course was a double figure of eight WITH EVERY TURN BEING A RIGHT HANDER.

In 2011 I rattled like a pharmacy as I ran, stocked up with all manner of helpful narcotics (immodium, ibuprofen and salt tablets) but for 2014 I had made the conscious decision to run “clean”.  That seemed a twat of a decision in that particular moment.  I am pretty sure some pain relief would have made the ungainly gait more bearable but, hey ho, no-one ever died of a sore foot (googles sore foot fatalities).

The 4:1 strategy worked a treat for the first 10k.  Just before 3k, I ran across Michael  (@smoker2ironman) walking. I knew he had started 15 minutes before so he must have been suffering.  I walked with him for a minute – his knee was bothering him and he was weighing up the DNF with the intake of voltarol.  I could have mugged him for his voltarol at that point but he needed it more than me.  I gave some painfully gibbered words of encouragement and then jogged on.

The first part of the figure of eight was hard work.  It was a really exposed flat section out to Krumpendorf and, when I started, some of the speedies were on their last lap.  This meant that it was harder than it needed to be with lots of jostling and maneuvering on a really narrow path.  As we arrived in Krumpendorf there was a short grass section that went down to a lakeside lido.  It was short and semi-circular and, you’ve guessed it, continual right hand turns.  I died a thousand deaths as this was at the start of a 4 minute run interval.  The thought of gnawing my foot off with my teeth crossed my mind.  I swore inside my head like a sailor at the folly of not packing a couple of ibuprofen.

Somewhere around the top of the Krumpendorf loop I started to run out of steam.  I am Scottish.  Despite the factor 50 I had run an hour without any shelter in a temperature somewhere above 25c.  I had actually dessicated.  I was sweating salt crystals.  I was literally at the point where my own tongue was uncomfortable in my mouth and my head felt like it had been microwaved while wrapped in a damp towel.  At the aid station exiting Krumpendorf I started Operation Desperate Measures.  4 sponges over my head, two tucked in my try top, 4 cups of water, a slice of watermelon and two handfuls of ice.  I walked until I could feel my core temperature start to come down.  As the ice cubes started to slip through my fingers I shoved them in my shorts.  From that point on I just survived between aid stations.

Back into the park area the crowd were getting really unruly as beer and sun took it’s toll.  My walks were now always coinciding with a group of English lads who now knew my name and shouted increasingly “motivational” encouragement every time I passed.  The shout of “come on Pirate” were receiving less and less enthusiastic “arrrrgggghs” as more and more moisture leaked out of me.

0745_057597The run out to Klagenfurt old town was again completely exposed and I found a line just along a high wall that provided some shelter as I watched my shoulders turn from blue to white to magnolia to scarlet.  In the old town everytime we rang a bell in an arch money was given to charity.  Three times in one pass I jumped to get that fecking bell.  At the turn there was another sharp right hander through a square that was set up with a huge screen for the evening world cup games.  The crowd were fun but still on the right side “Magaluf bar crawl”.  I got the bell again on the return and noticed a photographer. I mentally checked my face and was happy to realise that I was still smiling.

By now the strategy was run 90 seconds, walk 60 seconds and always walk the aid station.  Thankfully my stomach was fine (compare that with the Ironman Regensburg run) but my feet continued to get sorer and hotter.  I managed to stay one step ahead of the dehydration as the day finally started to cool.

I knew mentally that hitting the half marathon would be significant and, from the first lap through the park area, I knew exactly where the half marathon point was.  As I returned to the Iron Dome area alongside the Lend canal in the relative shelter of the trees I became aware of the casualties.  There were a number of sideways runners, a man that ran like he had developed piles the size of watermelons and the chap nonchalantly face down in a grass verge.  Like he was dead.  But he wasn’t.  Yet.

Just before half way I saw Pam and Roar in the park and gave them the thumbs up.  Feedback afterwards was that I looked WAAAAAAY better than Regensburg.  I went through the half marathon just under 2 hours 40 minutes which was considerably better than I thought it might be as the liquid leeched out of my body earlier in the lap.  But now it was just one more lap to go.  5 hours was gone, the finish was in the bag even if I crawled it, the last 21km would just be about moving forwards while smiling.

About three kilometres into the second lap I saw shady goings on up ahead.  A tall hairy yeti skulked out of the woods.  Not spectacular in itself but that particular yeti had come past me very fast on the bike about three hours before.

Me: “What’s up Nick?”

Nick: “Everytime I run I shit myself”

Me: “Hey, it could be worse.  Come on run with me for a bit”

Nick: “I’ll give it a go”

Nick’s innards: *gurgle, splutter, backfire*

Nick: “maybe I’ll just walk”.

0745_077027Gastro trouble is never far away in the Ironman and that afternoon I learnt something I didn’t know about the Ironman run.  In Regensburg we did 10km laps  so you only saw the few people you were running with but in Klagenfurt there was often two and sometime three way traffic.  And what became apparent with all that traffic was the noise.  The noise of The Farts.  I remember seeing a sign at Kona last year “Never trust a fart in an Ironman”; well I can testify that the whole of Klagenfurt were putting their trust in the sphincter.  It was like everyone had squeaky shoes, like McCartney had given up on Hey Jude and was conducting a perpetual dulcet Frog Chorus.  Whatever the Ironman run is, I can confirm that it IS NOT pretty.  Or fragrant.

Pushing on for 30km I saw a scarlet heided paddy coming towards me.  Nessie was out on the run.  Cue an exceptionally sweaty, coke and gel stained hug.  We stood and caught up for the first time in 10 hours.  In the middle of a tight path, attracting grumpiness from the shuffling men on the death march, farting their way home.

At the top end of the Krumpendorf loop I needed a pee.  I could have gone into a bush.  I could have held onto it.  I could have peed my tri-shorts while I ran.  But no, I went into a portaloo.  I can truly say I have never seen anything quite like it.  As I nod at the trough I often like to rest my head on the wall.  I am just shy of 6 foot and THIS WAS NOT AN OPTION.  What hell had occurred in here?  How did someone’s bowels get sprayed quite so high up a wall?  As I stared at the small urinal feature in the portaloo I tried to pretend there weren’t two GIANT jobbies on the toilet seat but I couldn’t. I wretched constantly for my whole visit and even if there was a huge family sized packet of ibuprofen, hell even morphine, in there I wouldn’t have touched it.  If I ever pee myself in public I will trace the public john phobia back to Trap 2 in Krumpendorf.

0745_089822Back in the park I saw Pam and Roar again and heard that Ness was on her way back in from Klagenfurt.  I pushed on and about a kilometre later saw her in the other direction – “Nearly there paddy, you’ve got this now”.  Just before the old town some young chap on roughly the same walk/run plan as me.  Eventually we agreed to go it together.  From this point on, about 7km to go, we mainly walked.  We both probably could have run more but some social connection was important to us.  We chatted about anything and everything – he was from Ottawa, the airline had lost all his kit and his wife was also doing the race – we saw her during our march.

In the old town square the football was in full swing.  But plenty of the crowds backs were turned to the screen.  They had rearranged the beer hall bench to create a channel for the runners.  A drunken guard of honour.  The Gauntlet.  But by now the crowd were calling us Ironman, there was no doubt any more.  The thoughts of a smash and grab on the pharmacy were passing.  The grin got wider.

With 2km to go I suggested we run it in.  The final kilometre sign was a lying bastard. I estimate that is was about 8 miles long with  40 right hand turns, an underpass and the only uphill on the course.  Pirate Happy Chap cheered me from her balcony.  The lights shone, I passed under a gantry, I high 5’d a million people, I turned into the finishing chute, I ran until I wanted to vom.

“Dougie, from Great Britain, YOU ARE AN IRONMAN”.  2 years and 11 months later it was as sweet as the first time.

0745_087833

And just when you thought it was all over there is one more episode to make the Ironman Austria Odyssey complete.  And that will answer the age old question – what happens when you finish an Ironman.

Until then, have a beer and embrace the fact that you can fart without fear.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE

 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond the Finish Line

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Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Posted on July 8, 2014. Filed under: Austria, bike, cycle, first time ironman, ironman, Ironman Austria, ironman nutrition, ironman tips, new ironman tips, nutrition, race report, race review |

Take a gel.  Grab a gulp of clean, fresh water.  Put on some comfy shorts.  It’s time for 112 miles of Austrian bike ride.

I used 1,700 words to describe a 67 minute swim where my head was largely in the water.  On that basis I will need 10,147 words to describe the basic cycle before I even start talking about the scenery.  (Joking!).  (Probably not joking).

Firstly, let me come back to the swim.  I got a lot of feedback that people were deterred from Austria by the description of the swim.  DON’T BE.  Sure, ANY Ironman swim is tough, a beach start particularly so.  The mass beach start is an absolute spectacle but it is not a huge amount of fun.  And the canal would be thrown out of The Hunger Games for brutality.  There are no cuddles once you are in the water.  But, tactically I made an error that put me in the middle of the bosh for a prolonged period.  You can avoid it altogether and hopefully if IronNessie writes a race report she’ll explain how she totally avoided the stramash.  It is completely possible and I coached her how little time you lose if you choose your start strategy carefully.  Unfortunately I am too dim to heed my own advice.

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The Aero Pump Arrangement

Anyway, I walked through the long transition zone, stripping off my wetsuit, picking up my bike bag, re-lubing, carefully drying my feet and putting my shoes on.  I had to loosen my helmet to put it on and then again when I was on the bike which seemed really weird at the time but, with hindsight, I suspect that whatever had happened in the swim had caused some temporary swelling.  There was certainly an unusual pain in my head, neck and shoulders for the first 50km or so and after that I can’t really remember any discomfort.  Post race the helmet was loose again so who knows?  I fetched my bike, walked out of transition and headed out for 180km (112miles) on the road.

Now, the bike course was the main reason that I chose Ironman Austria in the first place – it is famously quick.  Ness’s calculations and the race briefing were that there was 35km of ascending and 55km of descent or flat on the course.  However, the more I researched it the clearer it became that while it was quick it was certainly not easy.  Austria is kind of standard ascent for an Ironman but what makes the difference is long, straight, smooth descents.    It was surprisingly difficult to get ascent data for training – from various sources I saw 1200m, 1400m, the race briefing said 1600m and my own dying Garmin said 1814m.  I think the correct answer is somewhere between 1600 and 1800 but it certainly didn’t feel like it.  But this was not new news.  By the time I put my toes in the Wörthersee I was very familiar with the profile of the course and my training had sought out similar hills in preparation.

I always worry about the bike.  It is so important to overall performance in the Ironman but it is my weakest and newest sport so typically I feck something up royally.  The biggest and most surprising news about Ironman Austria was that I didn’t.  As soon as I got on the bike it felt different from 2011; I was comfortable; I knew what I was doing; I was confident.  More importantly the whole ride was on Plan B and it worked perfectly.  Plan B was required for 2 reasons – firstly, my Garmin was absolutely jiggered so I had to go on feel rather than data and secondly, I knew I couldn’t stomach Powerbar in the heat so I immediately switched to bananas.  Everything had been tested – not as thoroughly as Plan A – but IT JUST WORKED.

0745_043225Coming out of T1 the congestion was incredible and the referees, sensibly, ignored the drafting distances.  Pretty quickly, I was down on the aerobars and pushing 40km/h on the flat without puffing too hard.  And for the first 50k or so I would describe the going as gently undulating.  With the fogged up garmin I could see current speed and lapsed distance rotating every 10 seconds or so.  Cadence and heartrate, which I had used for training were completely obscured, and total race time was absolutely waterlogged.  So, trusting the plan, and letting the day develop as intended I didn’t even ask anyone the race time – I just focused on how I felt and tried to constantly ride *just* within myself.

There are two main climbs on the course – Faaker See and Rupertiberg.  From the altitude map Faaker See looked 6.5km long but in reality other than a short spike at the start it was unremarkable.  Rupertiberg looked pretty benign – short (2km) but stiff (150m); but became my absolute nemesis as it climbed over three sharp rises with an aid station perched at the top.  As I read in previous race reports lap 1 was a cruise and then Rupertiberg really nipped on lap 2.  If my Garmin had the decency to record my heart rate this would have been the only time I red lined.

0745_040728One of the things I found remarkable about the Ironman Austria bike course was how quiet it was.  There were long stretches when all I could hear was the the tweeting of birds and the click of many, many, many freewheels.  In Regensburg, the course felt like a constant party but in Austria with the exception of Klagenfurt and one other town in the course there was a lot of quiet time.  Sure there were people on Rupertiberg on the first lap (and an exceptionally irritating, borderline sexpest DJ – “GO IRONGIRL, GO IRONGIRL”) but the weather must have deterred the advertised “Tour de France” style crowds.

Also remarkable were The Randoms.  Often on a random stretch of hill were a couple of random people on camp chairs, off their tits on beer and schnappes, blowing whistles and horns with no obvious means of getting to or from the apparently random place they were at.  To be honest they seemed bemused by the bikes going past them so it may have been their standard Sunday afternoon and we were just getting in the way.

I had been thinking about Ness’s swim, hoping that she had followed advice and stayed out of trouble.  After the smaller loop of the bike course there is a brief section of two way traffic and pretty miraculously I heard my name shouted in the dulcet paddy tones.  I looked up and she looked well; I was happy that she was out of the water and I estimated that she was about an hour behind me.  If she could hold that pace on the bike I knew she would beat cut off.

I can’t really remember the order of events now.  At some point, I think towards the end of lap 1, it rained.  And it properly rained heavily.  There were police and marshalls in the towns on the descents slowing us down.  One building was covered in red crash matresses against the wall.  Some aero-alpha-clown decided to overtake a long line approaching that sharp right hand greasy turn, locked his brakes and just about took me out.  He probably saved 3 seconds.  I damn near lost 3 kilos.

Subsequently, I discovered that I went through 92km in 3:09.  I didn’t know it at the time but that was on target pace for my original plan of 6:30 and my final estimate of 6:40.  I also finished lap 1 in Regensburg in a similar time so I’m kinda glad I didn’t know as I unraveled rapidly after the halfway point in Regensburg and thinking about that would have been wasted energy.

0745_047442My nutrition plan was metronomic – at each aid station I launched both bidons, I took on 3 pieces of banana, a fresh bottle of Powerbar and a fresh bottle of water.  Between aid stations which was about 40 minutes I aimed to finish the banana, the Powerbar and as much water as I needed, drinking to thirst.  I can honestly say that I never suffered any GI problems at all and I even needed to pee on the bike.  (If you like gruesome detail – in Regensburg I peed in the lake and then didn’t pee again until Monday lunchtime.  And that included a lot of beer consumption.  Dehydrated doesn’t begin to describe it.).

Lap 2 was more of the same – short, sharp uphills, long flats and straight downhills.  The scenery was nothing short of stunning apart, of course, from the gaudy triathletes.  Now, at race briefing they said there were lots of toilet facilities on the course.  I have no reason to doubt this but if it was true they were stealth portaloos, camouflaged by the CIA.  Pretty much round every bend was some musclebound chap indulging in some dirty protest, stripped to the waist launching a golden stream into the undergrowth.  Every woodland area had half a dozen bikes dumped in front of it.  But not everyone was so frivolous with time.  One particular pointy helmet bellend, not wasting a moment to protect his flimsy dignity, took the time to balance his billion euro bike against a road sign, squat and take a dump by the road side while assuming an aero position sideways on to the incoming traffic on the grass verge.  From the side he looked like he was riding a tiny, invisible bicycle in his pointy helmet and half a tri suit…….until you noticed the exhaust discharge.

Just before Rupertiberg for the last time I felt like my hands and triceps were cramping so I stopped for the first time in about 5 hours and wolfed down two salt tablets.  As I stood there at the side of the road the overwhelming urge to pee came over me.  Following the lead of the aero-shitter I would not waste one excess second on mere ablutions – so I did it right there – over my bike frame, bidons and into my shoes.  “No worries”, I thought, “that can be my dirty secret”.  At which “DOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUUUUUGGGGGGGGGIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEE” as Nick shot past.  I shook my urine soaked feet, squirted a full bottle of water over my lower half and bike and set off again in distant pursuit.  About two kilometres down the road Nick, obviously inspired, had cycled right up to the edge of the woods and was leaving a trace of his own sugar spiked DNA on the Carinthian countryside.  This was far from the last time that I witnessed Nick dealing with matters of a sanitary nature.  I should mention that, ballast expelled, he overtook me again.  Just a bit of toilet jockeying for position.

At the summit of Rupertiberg I could turn my attention to the run for the first time.  Unusually, I felt good.  While the thought of a marathon wasn’t thrilling, it didn’t make me involuntarily vom all over my pee stained bike.  A quick body scan suggested everything was in working order – back was tight but not sore, a twangy nerve on my right hip was twanging but not crippling, knees felt as supple as 42 year old knees ever feel.  Although I wasn’t sure of race time or progress, I certainly felt like a 5 hour marathon was do-able.

On the descent of Rupertiberg and the final 35km the wind picked up.  The last 5km into T2 were brutal against an unrelenting headwind.  For the first time I was in the small ring and really struggling to push forwards against the wind.  For each push of the pedal I swore – quite the most foul profanities I could think of.  I’m not sure whether it helped forward momentum but it was cathartic.  About 1km out I saw Pam for the first time and sat up off the bars to wave.  Disaster almost struck approaching T2 as the dismount line was immediately around a blind corner and the marshalls were looking bemused at the triathletes concertinaing into each other as they rounded the corner.  A bit of frantic, maybe even panicked waving would not have gone amiss.

Al was right at the bike dismount and, having seen Ness at the end of lap 1, shouted that she was about 90 minutes behind.  I didn’t know my own speed at  this time but it felt like she was going to make bike cut-off with time to spare.  My mind was calm.

6 hours and 33 minutes.  50 minutes faster than Regensburg and bang in between my expectations set last October and two weeks before the race.  Happy as a pig in shit but blissfully unaware until after the race.

Again, I walked through transition, deposited my bike in the rack, popped into the portaloo, grabbed my run bag and readied myself for the run.  As you should, because it will be properly epic.

THE ENTIRE IRONMAN AUSTRIA ARCHIVE

 Auf Wiedersehen Pet

Ich Liebe Dich, Österreich

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Swim

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Bike

Ironman Austria 2014 – The Run

Ironman Austria 2014 – Beyond the Finish Line

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