Bristol South Road Race 30/3/14

The 3/4 race was on a rolling 10km circuit with one large hill on each of the eight laps. Being my first race of the season I was a bit apprehensive as to where my fitness levels would be and with the hill I knew there would be no hiding away in the bunch for the whole race, but my legs had felt good on the ride out there so I was hopeful.
The first time up the hill there were no KoM points available so it was reasonably steady, I sat on the front for the large part to keep the pace under control and gauge where my legs were but towards the top I let people roll past as they put the pressure. Over the top of the first climb a couple of riders got away but they were caught on the second lap’s ascent.
After this the race settled down for a lap, then a large group of ten or so escaped off the front who all seemed to be working well together as some of the teams had two or three riders in it. The bunch did eventually start chasing but it took some big efforts from some of the teams to bring them back. By the time we caught the break they had already sealed the KoM competition as there were only two more laps, and there were no points available for the last lap.
The penultimate time up the climb was tough, I could feel that I was going to cramp up but was also getting distanced slightly from the depleted field. Luckily I managed to chase back on before the cramp to too bad and could stretch off a bit at the back of the pack. The final time up the climb was a much steadier pace due to there being no KoM points available at the top, but there was a large split in the bunch, followed by Bath University Cycling Club putting a lot of pressure on the front which meant no one got back across.
The run in to the finish was rolling, but got flatter and flatter as you approached the finish and was slightly downhill in the home straight. Due to the challenging circuit only about 30 of the initial 80 riders remained in the bunch. The run in was fast with plenty of people trying their luck off the front. Going in to the final 500m one rider had a few seconds on the bunch. I was about ten riders back in the bunch, but it was very strung out so I knew getting boxed shouldn’t be an issue. Turning the final bend into the home straight everyone began to sprint, being my first race of the season I had no idea how much of a kick I would have, but I managed to get up into 3rd in the sprint, which gave me 4th overall as the rider away just stayed away by about a bike length. Overall I was pleased with this result, my legs had held up to the 1200m of climbing and I been up there in the sprint so it was a good start to my season.

National MTB series Rd 1 Codham Park

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On Sunday Codham park hosted the 1st round of the National MTB series. Located in Essex, Codham Park is the closest venue to home in this year’s series. Since it was close, I was able to enjoy an unusual lie in as I didn’t have to get going as early as I would for a normal day’s training.

After arriving and registering I found that the course was still being used for the women’s races so I headed out to warm up on the road for 25 minutes before the course opened.

With on course training time limited at national races, I was only able to preview the first half of the course so I was relying on my memories of the venue from previous years of MSG races to work out where the course would go.

After being placed well back on the grid, the gun went and the field charged up the grassy main straight before heading up a steep bank and turning round to come back towards the arena before heading off into the woods. So far this year I haven’t done much speed work so the start was hard going and I felt as though I was going backwards. Once we got out of the arena, I was able to begin to pick riders off but had to pick my overtaking opportunities carefully as the course headed into wooded singletrack. After heading out of the woods the course seemed to be heading towards the BMX track but instead the course skirted round the track and headed straight to a quarry section where the course doubled back multiple times to take in a number of chutes, berms and drops before eventually heading out onto the BMX track. This was something I couldn’t seem to get right, going too fast just seemed to result in smacking  the upslope of the next jump while keeping wheels on the ground just felt impossibly slow.  From the BMX track the course headed back to the start/finish across a very bumpy field which contained the feed zone where my new Whyte full sus bike came into its own.

As the race went on, I was still passing riders but as I was now mixed up with experts and juniors, it was difficult to tell whether I was gaining places in my own race. Going into the 4th and 5th laps, I was told I was moving up but I still did not know my position so I just concentrated on maintaining my pace on the strength sapping grassy sections and short sharp climbs.

During the last lap I spotted my team mate Chris up ahead and found some extra motivation to hunt him down. I caught him about 2/3rds of the way into the lap and managed to keep a small lead to the finish.

After the race I found my position.  5th place about 3 minutes off the leaders.  I was pleasantly surprised by the result as I feel my fitness still has some way to go.

Next up for me is the 2nd round of the MSG series near Saffron Walden.

Beyond Spring Crits Cat2/3/4 at Hillingdon Cycle Circuit. – 29th March

I’ve ridden this series of 3 events for the last couple of years now. It’s becoming my favourite way to get the season going but this year I’ve unofficially renamed them the ‘It’s finally stopped raining crits’.

It’s been difficult to get out on the bike this winter and that definitely showed in race 1 last week. I got a bit excited trying to break away from the bunch and finished the race wheeling around at the back. This might have had something to do with an old AW cycles team rider, Mikey Mottram punishing everybody from the front and just letting us all know he’s been training in spain for 2 months this year already. My winter belly made its presence felt by bursting out of my race jersey right before warming up. The zip had broken so I tried pinning it all the way up instead. This made me look like some sort of weird fetish cyclist so I quickly abandoned the idea and set about fixing the zip properly. Fully clothed and having forgotten my garmin I started the race feeling distinctly average and mildly distracted. I decided to follow my usual race plan and see how long I can resist getting excited and attacking. 12 minutes later I found myself soloing my way across to a break of two. I dragged the whole bunch with me and settled into the middle of the pack for a few laps. It was quite an animated race with lots of attempts to get away. With 11 laps to go a group of ten strong riders formed at the front and we got ourselves organised. The usual games were being played with people missing turns and shouting at each other using only 4 letter words. It became apparent that some riders were stronger than others and 3 guys got away with 4 laps to go. We chased hard but they crossed the line about 100 metres ahead of my remaining group of 4. We had a token sprint and I crossed the line in 4th feeling good for an early season race.

Ken

MSG round 1, Rendlesham Forest

The first round of the Mud Sweat and Gears Series took place in Rendlesham Foresto Sunday. It was my first XC race of the year and a good chance to test out my condition ahead of the summer.

Unlike this time last year, the weekend was dray and warm, resulting in a course which rode very well and was reminiscent of Thetford, consisting predominantly of twisty singletrack left over from motorbike enduros, spaced out with enough bomb holes to add variety.

In the MSG series, the Elites, Experts, Juniors and Masters are all set off together. I was gridded at the back and was caught up in the general scrum going into the first singletrack section and ended up stopped with a foot down while the group funnelled down from forest road to single file. With few passing places available, the head of the race disappeared into the forest while I was dealing with traffic.

Over the first two laps I worked my way through the field and came through in 4th, about 10 seconds behind 2nd and 3rd. Going into the 3rd lap I began to pay for my efforts and my pace dropped over the next 3 laps, finishing 1st in Masters and 4th overall behind the winner Richard Jones

Ironman Lanzarote 70.3 2013

Let me kick this off by shouting out the most important piece of information, “I WON MY AGE GROUP AT IRONMAN LANZAROTE 70.3” and in doing so qualified for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Canada next year! What an incredible year I have had, my story gives power to the phrase ‘life begins at 50’. After 10 years of taking part in Ironman races, in this my first year ‘competing’ rather than just ‘completing’, I have been on the podium in 2 out of 2 races. To top all of that off, on the 17th October I won the Sue Ryder ‘Woman of Achievement Sportswoman of the Year’. That was made all the more special as it was presented to me by last year’s winner, Olympic Gold Medal Rower Katherine Grainger.

I can’t even get myself out of the door…

I arrived in Lanzarote the evening of 30th September a few days before my race on the 5th October. I knew my preparation had not gone as well as I would have liked and there were several aspects of the race that I was not entirely confident about. I had not done enough running or swimming and I had put on a bit of weight. I had been struggling with a bad bout of depression for a couple of months, and actually just a couple of weeks before I left for Lanzarote I visited my doctor as I was finding it really tough. When I woke up to my first morning in Lanzarote I had that horrible ‘blackness’ weighing heavy on me. I did not even want to leave the apartment to see my friends and I did not want to be there! That in itself sent me into a panic!

I love being in Lanzarote and I have so many wonderful friends there, so I knew that I must be in a really ‘bad place’ if being there was not having a positive effect on me. I decided the best thing to do was a bit of self hypnosis which calmed me down and sent me to sleep. Unfortunately when I woke up I still felt bad and went back into panic mode. I thought about who I could possibly call to help me try and get into a better place. I called my friend Kim in the UK who had recently started teaching me some meditation techniques to help manage my depression. I blurted out to her in a teary voice; “I am 4 days away from my race and I can’t even get myself out of the door at the moment. I don’t know what to do…”. As you would expect she was taken aback initially but after a bit of thought she gave me some advice. That helped and along with a a couple of chats with two of my Lanzarote friends I gained enough mental strength to move myself away from the ‘black cloud’ I had been stuck under. A few days of calm focussing and I would be ready for race day!

Who is the lady with the beard?!?!?…

The start of an Ironman race is always congested with all the age group competitors setting off at the same time. We are all trying to get the best position and swim as hard as we can. Having missed the swim start at this same race last year I made sure I was ready and positioned near the front. That meant being with the largest percentage of men and I knew it was going to be very physical. Standing close to me I saw a Spanish woman who I had spoken to a few times during the lead up to the race. I said to her ‘it is going to be quite a ‘scrum’ here at the front and if she was at all nervous she should move back a bit. She did move and thanked me for it after the race. It was the usual onslaught of arms and legs flying everywhere and I definitely came out with a few bruises that I had not started the race with! Friends told me after the race I also came out with an attractive ‘muddy’ beard! Swim time 36 mins 45 seconds, my friend Ingrid beat me out of the water by 22 seconds. I knew my swimming was not as strong as it should be and I need to get back to swimming 5 days a week.

I met the most amazing man…

My transition from swim to bike was no more than ‘okay’ at 5 mins 48 seconds which was within a few seconds of all the other girls in my age group. However the professional women were all closer

to 3 minutes so there is still room for improvement there.

The bike section of the race was really the part I was most confident about. I knew it was going to be tough with just under 4000 feet of climbing in 56 miles in hot and windy conditions. But I also knew how much hard bike training I had done after my disappointing bike performance at my last big race in May. I knew then if I was going to be able to compete with the best 50-54 age group women athletes in the world I was going to have to get stronger in that department. I actually went nearly 20 minutes faster than the closest woman, in my age group, to me. I would like to make an ‘encouraging’ note to anyone reading this who is struggling with the bike or any of the other triathlon disciplines; up until a few years ago I really was such a weak cyclist and I would refer to it as my ‘nemesis!’. After lots of work and lots of miles I can honestly say I am now a really good cyclist and continuing to improve.

I was very conscious of not repeating the energy ‘crash’ I experienced during my last race so I was   consuming gels like clockwork. I had worked with a physiologist and I knew what my carbohydrate intake per hour needed to be. I was also being careful not to drink too much because I do tend to wee more often than other people. As it was I went 3 times, twice I was able to go whilst rolling along downhill but had to stop once because my body would not ‘let it go!’. What I did not know then was that I was setting myself up for a different problem once I got on the run, more about that later.

The bike section is the time when you get to interact the most with your fellow competitors as you pass and get passed along the route. I was privileged to meet an amazingly inspiring man called Lionel Morales Gonzalez whilst going up the infamous 10km ‘Tabayesco’ climb. Lionel swims, cycles and runs alongside his fellow athletes, same rules, same course, with a prosthetic leg. I love that he shows us all that you just have to work with what you have got and amazing things are possible!!!

As I neared the end of the bike I felt strong but my tummy was grumbling a fair bit and was clearly not happy. I had experienced stomach cramps during a race before and they had always gone away almost as quickly as they came. I assumed it would be the same on this occasion!

My back is cramping…My stomach is cramping…I’m falling apart!!!

I got off the bike not sure where I was in my age group but I did know that only a couple of women had gone past me and they were younger than me. I was optimistic that I must be in one of the top positions and just told myself ‘you need to move quickly!’. Once in the transition tent I sat down, firstly putting anti-chaffing cream on my feet to prevent blisters and then socks and trainers on. As I sat there I was aware that my lower back felt quite tight but I thought it would ease as soon as I got up and started moving, it usually does! I asked a volunteer to slap sun cream on my shoulders and off I set ready to run hard…OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!!! My back had seized up big time and I went into panic mode. I was thinking ‘I can’t even walk, how am I going to run 13 miles?’. I stretched it out a bit and then slowly jogged forward onto the track at Club la Santa which was the start of the course. Again…OUCH, OUCH, OUCH!!! I had to stop after about ten shuffling paces. Once again I tried to get it moving and the pain got even worse. I really thought at that point my race may be over. But I couldn’t face that idea so again I set off at a slow shuffling pace and this time I managed to keep going.

Once I got out onto the run course the next ‘challenge’ began to show itself in a spectacular fashion. My stomach cramps started to really, really hurt and it felt like there could be some explosive manifestation coming at either or both ends of the chain! I knew I needed to keep the energy going in but every time I tried a gel the pain got worse so I stopped eating and drinking. At one point I thought I would have to go to a toilet along the route. The problem was I did not know where I was in the race and making a stop may mean me being overtaken. I thought about when I had seen others ‘go’ in their shorts during a race (and I am not talking about a wee here!!!) and I felt for their dignity but on the other hand I knew they were racing. I never thought I would find myself in the same position as up until a year ago I had not imagined myself ‘racing’ a race! I weighed up the risk of stopping against the ‘mess’ I would be carrying across the line and decided, if necessary, I was prepared to let my dignity take a dive!

The half marathon run course was 3 laps and there was plenty of spectator support along the way. It also allows you to see your fellow competitors and try and get some sense of who is closest to you in the race for your age group. That said I can honestly say I was not at any time entirely sure where I was placed. At the turning point of the first lap I saw Bella Bayliss who was not racing but she, Stephen and Charlie were cheering us all on. She shouted to ask me how I was doing to which I replied “I am struggling, I have the worst stomach cramps”. She told me to start taking electrolyte drink at the feed stations as it was most likely because I had not had enough on the bike. I followed her advice and the result was pretty dramatic, in a good way. With each sip I took the result was almost instantaneous thunder!!! I tried to make sure no-one was coming up behind me but I did not have that much control and to be honest we were all at it!!! Sometimes you just can’t hold it in and during a race that is one of those times. Put me in a dress and a pair of heels and I can be as girlie as the next but put me in a race and I can mix it with the best of the boys!

Running ‘blind‘ with a crash to follow…

The whole run was hard and I never felt good at all. I just knew I had to keep myself moving forward as best I could. Throughout the whole race I did not know my position but I kept thinking about what Rikki, my A.W. Cycles team mate said to me before I left; “whatever happens you need to cross the line knowing that you gave everything you had on that particular day”. So I just kept ‘fighting’ and resisted the temptation to walk. I crossed the line in 2 hours and 9 minutes which was 9 minutes slower than the same race last year and 19 minutes slower than I had been aiming for. That said I did give everything! As soon as the photographers had finished with me I fell into the arms of my friend Chris and sobbed my little heart out. If you ask him he will be able to tell you about the out-pouring of emotion having ‘left it all out there’.

Once I had managed to compose myself then came the question of where I had come in the race, I needed to know! Chris came with me to the tent where the results were being generated but can you believe it the computer had crashed just before I crossed the line. They were working on getting it back up and said it would be a few minutes. They did however think I was first in my age group but I would have to wait for confirmation. The wait was not long but it felt like an eternity! Once the computer was back up I hovered over the desk in anticipation and…YES…I DID IT…I WON MY AGE GROUP…I AM GOING TO THE WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS! I screamed and everyone in Lanzarote must have heard me, in fact you might have heard me wherever you may have been in the world at that moment!

I won by just under 7 minutes despite a terrible 2nd transition and run. The overwhelming positive I take from the race is the big margin I created on the bike which in the past has been my weaker discipline. I know I can swim faster and I know I can run faster, now I need to get the balance right in my training so they are all strong at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Canada next year.

Bring on 2014…

So as the year end draws near it is a good time to reflect on my successes in 2013 and in turn set my goals for next year. I think it is fair to say that in this my first year transitioning from ‘completing to competing’ I have much to be pleased and proud about. I have learnt valuable lessons along the way that will help me be even more successful in 2014. I now need to get myself into my best ever shape so I can go to Canada strong and ready to compete for the top place in my age group. It is time to set the ‘bench mark’ even higher!

I need to say a very big thank you to all those who have supported me throughout the year. Friends and family in the UK, in Lanzarote and all around the world. My swimming buddies and the staff at Bradfield College swimming pool. My sponsors, Wiliers, ATB sales, HIGH5 sports nutrition, along with local sponsors Pulleyn transport and Seal-group. The biggest thank you has to go to A.W.Cycles for believing in me and putting me on their team. I am a 50 year old woman who, up until this year, has never been very high up on the results list and has finished last many times over the years. Thank you for believing me when I said; “I know I can do it…”.

My message to YOU whoever you may be…I have gone from being a ‘back of the packer’ to a race winner who will next year compete to be a World Champion. If you have a dream I dare you to take a leap of faith and turn it into reality!