A couple of years ago when my friend Julie announced she had signed up for Dublin 70.3 I distinctly remember saying I could never do that in a million years. So how did I get here? After failing to get a place in the London marathon I was feeling at a bit of a loose end and then all the hype of Edinburgh 70.3 happened and it was too much of a temptation. A middle distance in my home town with no complicated travel logistics all I’d have to do is train. How hard could it be?
Not being the most organised of people I soon realised that I didn’t have a clue how to train and neither the time or inclination to read up about how to train properly. I was trying to get out more but kept finding myself on my bike or out for a run with not a clue where I was going or what I was doing. I was really relieved when Karl agreed to take me on, although a bit alarmed that I might need to call myself an athlete. The only part of me that has ever had the label “athlete” is itchy and between my toes!
It was a slight shock to the system to see my 5-6 hours training a week, which I had felt quite proud of, suddenly start to look more like 8-9hrs with lots of that on my bike and oddly not going out and running or cycling as hard as I could. I had a lot to learn! I am very fortunate to work part time so managed to fit most of the training in during the week. Saying that balancing family life and training was a sometimes a challenge, particularly during holidays. I was surprised not to get a call from social services after a disastrous tempo run where my youngest, who was trailing behind on her bike, stung herself on a nettle and proceeded to sob all the way along the Water of Leith.
I had a pretty good period of training from January to May increasing my distances on the bike even managing to do the Kinross Sportive Black. I was lucky to have no illness or major injury just the usual niggles of a worn out 46 year old body. The weather was also relatively kind although it has seemed to be quite a windy six months, or is Edinburgh or particularly the Lang Wang always windy?
The final run up to July 2nd was not perhaps as smooth as it should have been. On a recce of the bike ride in the pouring rain three weeks out I stupidly stood up on my pedals trying to catch up with my other half and my bike went from under me and I landed with a clatter on my hip and elbow. I ended up with a spectacular bruise/haematoma on my hip, a scraped elbow and severely damaged pride. Being fairly stubborn I decided just to carry on training. I even managed to do Lochore Sprint three days after. It is amazing how bodies can perform even when they are not 100%. I was really pleased with my Lochore result particularly my run. I also did another recce of the route on a much nicer day.
I’m not sure if it was the effect of continuing to train with an injury but my taper weeks did not feel great. I also had a few cold sea swims which just seemed to wear me out. In the final two weeks I seemed to have a constant headache and aching legs. I kept trying to tell myself it was just tapering but soon realised that it was actually a virus. I was trying anything to scare off the virus including a weird health tonic for leg cramps with black strap molasses, raw apple cider vinegar, salt and bicarbonate of soda. Looks a bit like Guinness but not as tasty! Bonus being that I think it is probably a good way of pre-empting cramp.
I had a fairly dramatic final taper week only managing a 1hr cycle and a 20min run (to try out my new tri suit which had arrived last minute). The cycle was at least positive as I spent the whole way listing all the reasons I could do a half iron man. I felt quite good after this although still not 100%.
The day before, dropping kit off, I still felt pretty awful but a little improved and I decided at least I needed to start. My two girls were also getting excited for me and had made a banner and put ribbons on their new cowbells. I couldn’t let them down. With one more sleep (or not sleep – I never can the night before an event) to go I was not at all convinced I would finish but I was going to give it a damn good try.
The morning dawned and I had my planned breakfast of granola and yoghurt and a cup of tea. I took a plain bagel with honey for when I got to the race start. Adrenaline had obviously kicked in and I was feeling better.
I have to say given my health I was fairly ambivalent when they announced the shortening of the swim. I was always going to find the swim challenging as I suffer from pretty severe Raynauds which can render my hand useless making getting out of a wetsuit problematic. I had pre planned carrying hand warmers until I went into the swim leaving them in a bag with my inhaler on the medical table. I had checked this at registration only to find out that if I had a medical note I could have worn gloves. Despite the threat of rough seas I ate my bagel – always good to line your stomach I feel.
I lined up with the 40-45min band (still based on 1900) but realised too late that I was quite near the back of this, although I saw a few Edinburgh Triathletes who I thought should be further up were in the same bit. I had faffed a bit trying to hand over my inhaler and hand warmers so when I got to the gate I wasn’t particularly prepared. The next thing I knew I was shuffling into the sea pulling my goggles on and attempting to dive into the waves. I spent the next 32minutes flailing about doing a mixture head up and head down breast stroke and a little bit of front crawl. Somehow this seemed to result in forward progress. I saw a few people getting pulled out and thought I better carry on as they needed more help than me. It was a truly surreal experience. Particularly turning the finally yellow buoy to be blinded by the sun for what seemed like ages and then somebody shouting swim to the orange buoy at which point I saw it. I remember thinking how odd it was that I wasn’t cold and how I really wanted to go on the cycle so I could see the two lovely horses on the Gifford loop. Still now my recollection of how I got round is very hazy. So much so that when I looked at my Strava trace and it seemed to have measured short I thought I had maybe inadvertently cheated, I don’t think I had as the trace seems to be all over the place and at one point stops for ages and then flies forward. Out of the water I didn’t need my hand warmers but I did need my inhaler so I was glad I had left it at the medical table.
Transition was not the speediest but I did what Karl had suggested grabbed my bag and emptied it on the floor. Oddly some people seemed to be trying to take everything out at the pegs. I was amused by the presence of plastic chairs to sit on and the number of people who seemed to be sitting on them having a rest. I was too worried about missing the cut off to hang about. I faffed trying to get arm warmers on, I have done this before and really shouldn’t bother packing them. Finally I was off on the bike. I forgot to move my watch on to the bike and then had a technical faff pressing the wrong buttons and having to restart the recording. I often think I shouldn’t bother with technology but I wanted to be able to keep an eye on my HR and the time.
With the westerly wind behind me I felt quite strong and whilst I was getting passed by people on TT bikes and those with much bigger thighs than me I was also passing some people. On my recce I had identified land marks where I should eat and drink something as I knew I would forget. My nutrition was homemade date and peanut butter balls (with chia seed my addition), dried mango and Eat Natural bars and Tailwind. I looked forward to seeing my family who I hoped had made it to Gifford in time given the shortened swim. They had and it was a real boost to see them. Having recced the route I was not to phased by the Gifford/Garvald loop, maybe because I was never going to be super speedy so had a lower risk of messing up the technical downhill bits. In the event it was difficult to take them at any speed because everyone else was being quite canny and probably slower than I had on my recce. Again my recollection of the bike is a bit hazy. I do remember asking a marshal if they could turn the wind off now. It was unrelenting in parts, although I am so accustomed to wind now it didn’t seem that bad. I spent a few miles being amused by a man who had pannier racks on his bike. No carbon fibre lightweight speed machine for him. I would pass him on the flats and downhill and he would pass me on the uphill (all in the thighs). I had avoided taking any food or water from the feed stations, partly because I was worried about messing it up and crashing. However, by Cousland I’d had enough of Tailwind’s sweetness and did grab a water bottle to have a quick drink discarding it in the bin without stopping. Yeah success I didn’t fall off! In the last half hour of the bike I finished most of my food in preparation for the run and reluctantly drank more Tailwind.
I hadn’t recced the Arthurs seat bit and felt a little disheartened when I arrived seeing people already on their run. However, I soon realised that I was enjoying the cycle and had to make the most of it as it would be over very soon. I pushed on and passed a man who seemed impressed that I had the energy to stand up on my pedals (I have my friend Alan to thank for this as I spent a very hilly training ride with him practicing many short sharp hills). The view coming down round Arthur’s seat is amazing and a fitting end to the cycle. T2 was a bit speedier although I decided a quick loo stop was a good idea. I’d put a small bottle of water in my transition bag which was handy as I was needing a non-sugary drink again. I also took a small bag of dried mango for the run.
Then off on the run. The atmosphere was absolutely amazing and any reservations I’d had about not being able to do this seemed to instantly dissolve. My family were out on the course which was fantastic, and Karl and Fiona and so many Pentland Triathletes marshalling or supporting it was truly amazing to feel so supported. I decided early on to tell myself to treat this as a half marathon and forget what went before, it seemed to work. I stuck to Karl’s advice of walking through the feed stations; I only took water for the first couple of laps as I wasn’t hungry at all at that point. By the second lap I thought I better eat so had some of the mango. I also had a few gulps of coke and the electrolyte drink as I wanted to be sure not to get cramp (I did start to get a little in my foot). The planned feed station walking felt like a really positive thing to do as outside of this I was able to keep running. By the last lap I was having such a good time I couldn’t stop beaming (actually I thinking I grinned inanely for most of the run J). Words cannot describe how completely elated I felt to finish but hopefully my picture says it all.
I want to say a huge thank you to Andy and to my girls Abigail and Emily who have had to tolerate a continuously tired and often grumpy wife/mum. Thank you also to Karl for spot on advice and encouragement. Knowing someone was going to see when you had completed a run, ride or swim was a massive motivation which helped me get out in all weather. I am no longer a fair weather cyclist! One lesson which I will take from this is to train for all eventualities and perhaps my only slight regret is that I didn’t do this for the swim as I am sure with more practice I could have attempted the swim with more style. Either that or I need to choose non sea events – but where is the fun in that.
I am still not sure what made me decide I could do this but I am so glad that I did. I do know now that I should never say never as I may just turn round and find myself training for something even more epic!