Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Suffering Part 6; Cotswold 226

It seems like barely yesterday that I cycling up and down Froggatt for hours on end, hoping to join the exclusive 'Everesting' club!  It was only 3 weeks ago!  Since then I've spent many hours dreaming of my next endurance challenge, wondering what I could possibly do to beat the high I've been riding on the back of.

This weekend just gone brought along the next challenge in my 'year of suffering'; the Cotswold 226 triathlon.  This is a long distance tri (commonly known as an 'ironman' although this is a brand name); a 2.4mile swim, 112mile bike and then a gruelling 26mile run.

I did my first ironman last year, taking part in Ironman UK at Bolton, one of the ironman branded races.  It was an incredible experience, especially the red carpet finish, but man was it tough!!  During the run (if you could call it a run; more of a walk/shuffle) between tears I vowed to my husband not to enter another!! I promised!

Well, January came and I had other ideas.  I did a bit of research, checking out other races.  Whilst the ironman was amazing, it is also very expensive, coming in at well over £400.  To some extent you do get what you pay for in that you get an incredibly well-organised, well-run race.  But with a lot of races on the list this year (and a supposed economy-drive) another ironman was not on the cards.  I entered the Cotswold 226 whilst away skiing with friends, and then rang my husband to tell him.

"But you promised not to!!" He said...
"I know, I know, I'm sorry..." I told him... (I wasn't sorry!)

I had big plans for training, given I was running Paris marathon as well.  I was going to smash my Bolton time down, knocking copious minutes off the run.  This was going to be my year of improvement!

Since Paris I've run only a handful of times, certainly less than 10!  So I realised that perhaps my run expectations had been a bit optimistic.  It was also only 3 weeks since Froggatt, and I'd had considerable knee pain on every ride since then.  Was that really enough recovery time??

The weekend crept up, quicker than expected, and with a loaded car we headed down to the Cotswolds.  This time my Dad and his partner Gill were coming along too (as well as my dedicated husband; thank you!).  I'm raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity, as my Dad had metastatic testicular cancer last year.  This is the first time he's been to see me race so it was quite special.

We met up with Jeff on Saturday (Jeff is also a member of TnT, the tri club I train with occasionally).  After lunch there was registration and a chance to familiarise myself with transition and the swim area.  An early dinner, then an appropriately early night after some sad news about an old university housemate.

 3.30am and my alarm is bleeping.  It's still dark, it's raining, and it's Sunday morning!  What the hell am I doing??  After a week of night shifts followed by day shifts I am exhausted!!  I do NOT need to be getting up right now!  I roll out of bed and eat some breakfast, before rousing Tom and heading out of the house.

Transition at 4.30am and it's just getting light.  I rack my bike and prep everything, chatting away to the lady next to me (Deb, from Leicester; I do like to chat!).  5am, wetsuit on and over to race briefing.  Dad and Gill turn up and say hi, and I have a photo or two with Jeff before getting into the very warm water!

Breath in!  Team TnT!
Last year I swam Bolton in 1.21 but wasn't feeling particularly fit or fast swim-wise, so was expecting 1.20-1.30 this year.  Anyone who knows me will know I am particularly weed-phobic, so was quite concerned about this swim, having been told there were patches of weed.

The horn sounded and I set off, looking straight down at weed.  Not what I wanted!!!  The first 1km went ok, stuck in a fast group, before slowing down (slight panic) during a bad patch of weed.  I regained composure and kept swimming, relaxing a bit and getting used to the weed.  I tried to sit on someones hip to slipstream but it didn't go so well.  At the start of lap 2 I found an attractive pair of feet that I decided were mine for the duration!  I felt like I was swimming slowly, and my shoulders certainly felt tired.  I'm sure my technique was going out of the window!  But those toes were going nowhere!  I pushed as hard as I could, staying with them until the last 50m, when I slowed to breaststroke so I could have a quick pee (well it was that or drop my tri suit to pee in transition; not happening!!).

As I ran up through transition I could hear the loudspeaker announcing times; so-and-so 1hr11minsXX seconds...  Surely not.  I hadn't swam in 1hr11 had I?? I asked some supporters what time it was as I got changed. Flipping hell!!! I had!!! A ten minute PB!!!  After a slow transition (it's long distance, I'm not about to rush!), I headed out on the bike.  Excluding relay teams, turns out I was 2nd female out of the water, and only by 4 seconds.  Wow!!!  (I didn't realise this until later).  Clearly shouldn't have stopped to pee, then I could have been first!!  Haha!

On to the bike (beating the other woman out of transition, not that I was aware), and I set off pedalling.  Immediately I had medial knee pain, so knew I couldn't push too hard.  Keep it steady, keep spinning.  I was hoping to complete the bike in 6hr30, but really wasn't sure how I would do.  To put it into perspective I did the Bolton bike in 7hr48.  I knew I was bike fit after LEJOG but was worried about how recovered I was after Froggatt.  I guess I would just have to see.

For me, the bike turns into 2 things.  Firstly a series of mathematical problems in my head as multiply numbers again and again in my head, working out how quick I'll be at what speed, 16mph, 17mph, 18mph (oh no, that's too fast), 17.5mph etc.  Numbers swim around and around in my head as my legs spin.  Secondly I enjoy the thinking time, and thought about Hannah, an old university friend.  

Early on in the bike I was overtaken by 2 fast looking women (Paula and Annett).  I hadn't realised that put me in third place.  I was thinking I was much further back in the field.  At some point during the first lap the rain came.  The marshals were fantastic!! Especially one of the motorcycle marshals, who checked we were all ok and warm enough on the bike.  One of the marshals told me I was third woman!  Wow!  I better keep pedalling!  I was trying not to push, I needed to save something for the run, but equally didn't want to loose my place.  At some point I realised there was a woman not too far behind, so picked it up a little bit; I was not about to be overtaken!  I managed to keep her behind me (although perhaps only by a minute or two looking at times), and in fact overtook the next woman, putting me into 2nd place!!  Wow!!  As someone who is mediocre at best, this was good!  Paula (in 2nd place) played leap-frog with me for a bit, but I wasn't about to get involved in that game, and dropped off.  I was not getting done for drafting!  And was not about to push too hard for the sake of a minute or two, which I knew I'd loose on the run anyway.  Towards the end of the bike I saw my support team in Minety, cheering me along!  Thank you!

Heavy rain in the Cotswolds.  Feeling good at 105 miles.
Off the bike in transition, socks on, and then out onto the run.  Interestingly, I hadn't needed to wee again yet, which worried me.  I'd drank 5 bottles, so was a bit worried about my kidneys (as I'd had a dose of ibuprofen at 3.30am, and then again at about 11am whilst on the bike).  It had been hot though (despite the rain), so I was likely just dehydrated.  In my deluded head I wondered if I'd be able to run a 5hr marathon time.  Last year at Bolton my run took me 5hr56.  Despite minimal running since Paris, I hoped I could beat this by a decent margin.  The first few kilometres felt ok, but I quickly slowed down.  Then I started to be overtaken.  Deb and Barbara had been hot on my tail on the bike, so it didn't take long for them to catch me!  Over the next few hours I was also overtaken by another 4 amazing women; Sue, Victoria, Helen and Claire!  Well done ladies!  I kept slogging along, at times kept company by Tom (yes, you are amazing).  It was great to pass Jeff on the laps for a TnT high five!!

At some point during the run (?lap 2 or 3 maybe) feeling the pain.
The best thing about this race was the size; only 150 competitors.  It was a small, personal event.  This meant you got to know everyone as you run past each other again and again on the run laps.  I spent lots of time cheering everyone on by name.  Maybe if i'd spent more time and effort running and less on cheering I could have done a bit better (unlikely; I'm s**t at running...).  By the end I had most people's names sorted!!!

Lap 3 was particularly painful, and I had a bit of a cry.  On lap 4 I ended up walking for a few kilometres.  I had stopped to pee, and the toilet started spinning.  Concerned about collapsing, but determined to finish, I instructed Tom to stay by my side in case I collapsed, and then kept walking.  As I came back into South Cerney (the finishing village) for the final time, I picked up my pace back to a run, and plodded around the corner and across the finish line, to finish as 9th woman.


 A whole 1hr53min14sec faster than last year's race!!! Time well and truly smashed!!!

Post-race selfie with my no.1 fan!
Cotswold 226 has been incredible!  And not just because I smashed my PB!  It was friendly, well-organised and well-run.  The marshals were wonderful!  Super friendly, super supportive, and just 100% lovely!  I will definitely come back and race again!

I still have a lot to work upon.  I'm sure my swim could be faster.  My bike definitely can be!  I still had a lot left in the tank at the end of it, so that's good.  And running... well... that still leaves a LOT to be desired!  Winter 2015/2016 will be ALL about running.  If I could knock 1hr off my time, that would be great.  If I could knock 1.5hrs off my time... let's start slowly mind, I'll take an hour first!

Mmmm food!  With Jeff, Gill & Tom.
Now I'm hobbling around work, with that classic post-ironman waddle.  Plenty of stretching, nutrition and rehydration.  Time for a few days of rest before we head off to the Alps for 2 weeks of climbing (including the Matterhorn, yet another of my challenges).

 This year started being about raising money for Orchid, a male cancer charity (you can sponsor me at www.virginmoneygiving.com/nikkisommers), but has morphed into a year of endurance and endorphins, as I work out just how much I can push myself, and keep improving.  I have to be honest, I'm quite enjoying the pain in my legs today, because I know I've earned every little bit of it!

Team ORCHID!!! (ME and my fab Dad!)

An extra note about some sad news 

On Saturday night I found out that one of my university friends had died.  I lived with Hannah in second year of university.  We weren't close, and we haven't been in touch since I graduated.  But it is still terribly sad to hear that someone so lovely, and so young has passed away.  I spent a chunk of the bike time thinking about Hannah, remembering happy memories.  Metroline in first year.  Cowboys and Indians!!  (I forgot how drunk Hannah had been until I looked at the pictures yesterday; they did make me laugh!)  It is terribly sad to hear of someone dying so young of cancer, only 27.  My heart goes out to Hannah's family and friends at such a sad time.

Cowboys & Indians!  Hannah, Emma & Becky
A slightly drunk Cowboy!
Metroline (in first year; 2007!)