(or rather woman)
Yes, I did it! Like last year, when I requested an Olympic Distance Triathlon for my birthday, I found myself in Norfolk last weekend, ‘enjoying’ my half-iron birthday treat. We picked up Hector from school on the Friday afternoon, filled a hire car with camping gear and my bike and headed off towards Holkham. It was very exciting as we drove through the area, spotting arrows and signs – we were on the bike course! Driving up into Holkham Estate, we were directed towards our patch of land and set to putting up our tent…we were very lucky at this point, getting the thing up just before there was a very sudden downpour…followed by beautiful double rainbows.
We had thought of staying in a cottage, but it seemed to make perfect sense to be right there on site, with just a stroll down to registration, transition and the briefing on the Saturday. Hector enjoyed the lovely playground with Edward while I picked up my number and stickers, racked my bike and listened very carefully to the quite entertaining pre-race briefing. It was interesting – and reassuring – to hear how much care is taken in testing the water before committing to holding an event. Apparently the lake we were to swim in was very clean and, due to be under-fished, we might see some very big fish on our swim. Eek! At this point, Edward had to nip off to take part in the 10k that had been organised (alongside a 2.5k race) in addition to the triathlon, so Hector joined me at the briefing, ‘Boring!’ Edward did really well in his first 10k in years, finishing just outside the top ten and getting himself a PB on a tough course.
The rest of our day was spent on the beach, enjoying the dunes, trekking to the water, dodging incredible thunder storms (by huddling under our picnic blanket) and burying a child. Of course.
We were also trying to keep in touch with our friends Siggy and Stephen, who had persuaded me to do this thing in the first place. Staying in a tent in a rural area leads to flat batteries and no signal, so slightly snatched conversations! We explored the tiny little shopping street at Wells-Next-the-Sea, picking up a new bucket and spade and marvelling at the superbly stocked sweetie shop.
If you have followed my blog regularly, you know that I try hard to find the right fuel in the run up to a race and also during the event itself, trying my best to avoid cramping and stomach issues. I hadn’t really thought ahead to my pre-race dinner and, as we were travelling light, we decided to go out to eat. Following the snaking line of thriathletes, we were led to the most wonderful fish and chip shop, where I shared this with Hector:
A relaxed evening was spent lounging around in our pyjamas, the boys drawing and me frantically rereading Chrissie Wellington’s excellent autobiography for inspiration (it never fails to inspire). I was anxious to get to sleep early as I had an early start. Hmmm, I did get to sleep fairly early, but found myself awake at 1am, then pretty much every hour after until I decided to just get up at 5am and traipse to the loo. Amazingly, I managed to get dressed, faff about, make porridge and tea on the stove, faff some more and leave without disturbing the boys. I was very nervous.
I had had difficulty finding my transition spot the day before and still took some time working out where my stuff was (and it was obviously now full of gear and people!). I laid out my belongings, doing a little run-through in my head, making sure everything was in order. I then spotted Siggy and Stephen, so had a little nervous hug and excited chat about what they’d got us into. Time ticked away quite quickly, so I decided to put my wetsuit on and put my very stylish Orla Kiely Tesco shopping bag in the baggage area with all the posh tri-bags. Time to leave transition and wait by the water.
This is the point where I really start to panic. The water looked calm and I knew it wasn’t terribly deep (in fact we were able to stand at first), so this reassured me, but I looked around nervously at the other women in my wave (about 250 of them) and listened carefully as we were given some last-minute instructions. More hugs and we were heading down the ramp. The water was pleasant, but I still had that seeping-in-through-the-zip moment and wasn’t sure if I liked the feeling of my toes – and then my legs – sinking into the deep, blancmange-like silt! I kept back and to the side, allowing other, more confident women to move forward. A countdown and some cheering and we were off! I had given myself a good talking to in the previous days, telling myself to stop being such an utter wuss and not doing breaststroke for the whole thing. I did breaststroke. I looked to the side, where people were walking along the river bank, calling encouragement to their athletes. I smiled at marshals, who asked if I was OK. I noticed another woman turning around and going back after just a few hundred meters and I watched as pretty much everyone else peeled away in a surge of strong, front-crawling arms and legs.
Gradually, I put my chin in the water, gently blowing bubbles to regulate my breathing. I looked ahead and wondered where the island was. I chatted to some more marshals (a sure sign that your swim isn’t going as planned) and I avoided the fallen tree that bent over the water (and apparently looks like a crocodile if you have your face in the water, which I didn’t). I approached the island and swum round it, head up. I turned and looked hard to see how many buoys were left. I kicked my legs a little harder as I saw the last wave (of men) coming though now and hoped they didn’t catch me up and push me under. This, for some reason, gave me enough incentive to try front crawl. Here, I glided easily, overtaking, reaching buoys quickly. I ticked swimmers off then had another brief panic, going back to breaststroke and getting overtaken again. Men caught up but didn’t duck me. I tried again, thinking I could see the finish, where we were due to climb out – surely not?! I saw Siggy, I had caught her up! Overtaking, I shouted ‘Go Siggy!’ and made my way towards the last buoy, where we would make a sharp turn left. Me and all the other swimmers now crowding the area. The water became unsteady, a wave hitting me in the face and going down my throat. I choked and tried hard to breathe, a kind woman ahead calling out to see if I was OK. I was, I was just freaking out.
What a relief to be pulled out and to make my way up the ramp, undoing my zip and peeling off my wetsuit. Transition. Time to put on my cycle kit. Off I went, happy now. In the briefing we were told to have our bikes in the right gear for a hill start, I pedalled on. We rode up a long, straight road, a beautiful start to a bike leg and out through the gates of the estate. These were open roads, so we had to ride carefully, looking out for other road users. Junctions were marshalled and some had cones to guide us away from busy traffic. I had put two drinks bottles on my bike and had also invested in a little bento bag for my cross bar. Once I had settled in to the ride, I took a few gulps and a salt tablet (I wasn’t going to be beaten by cramp this time). The organisation of this event was excellent, the attention to detail impressive. I really appreciated the bright orange spray that had marked any potholes and drains, making it so much easier to just ride! We soon encountered our first hill, where I overtook a fair few people. One man, who I went on to meet at every hill, commented that these hills were hard work – he should try the North Downs sometime! Here I realised that all the hours spent on the turbo trainer had made up for any lack of actual road riding and I felt comfortable, strong and happy. I nibbled on chunks of bars that I had carefully wrapped in foil, guzzling drinks to wash them down (I need to work on this skill).
The first part of the ride was gorgeous, through quiet villages, on more or less empty roads and with little to challenge us. Later though, we were directed towards an A-road, where I put my head down and pedalled hard; I didn’t like this bit. The road was busy and fast and I had a little scream as two motorbikes sped past at top speed. Feeling a bit shaken by this and the bit of a traffic jam that we met at a junction, I pulled over at the next aid station to compose myself and have a chat with the lovely marshals. On your race number is your name so, as I pulled away, the team of people shouted ‘Go Adele!’, giving me a little boost to pick up the pace and catch up with anyone who had overtaken me on my break. This last bit went quickly and we were very soon turning the incredibly sharp bend that would take us back towards the hall. I was pedalling fast, feeling that I might make good time on the bike, but suddenly felt something hit my leg, ‘What’s that?!’ My bottle cage had come loose (I had been wondering what that rattling noise was!) and was falling off. Quickly, I jumped off and decided to just tighten it enough with my finger to get back to transition, fiddly! Back on I jumped and tried to catch up again. Along the long, long road and down the hill to transition where I attempted to find my space again. Off with the helmet, on with the running shoes and off in the wrong direction towards bike out. Doh. Eventually I found the way out and was greeted by a great big cheer of ‘Go Adele/Mum!’ and got myself a lovely big hug from the boys.
By now it was getting hotter. The hill that I had ridden with ease and enthusiasm was steep and long on the run, with tired legs and numb toes. The half-marathon was a three-lap run, taking on this hill three times. I ran the first lap, slow and steady, determined not to walk. I took some liquids at the feed station, feeling boosted for the lovely section under the shade of the trees, towards our campsite. At the lap marker, we were given wristbands to wear, signifying how many laps we had done (what a great idea!). I ignored the finish funnel to my right and kept going towards the feed station, where I sucked on a gel, urgh! The long road stretched ahead and I found myself slowing down to a walk. I wish I hadn’t, I wish I had kept a steady but slower pace, but I had done it now and felt like I had given myself permission to stroll and chat! I ran chunks of it ‘To the drinks’, ‘To the gate’, ‘To that marshal’, but walked great chunks too. Lap three and I saw numerous athletes pushing their bikes out of transition, medals around their necks. Keep going! Another gloopy gel, yuck and a loo stop!
Only one more lap to go and I would be a half-ironman! The long road stretched out in front and I walked again, but heard a familiar foot-fall behind me, it was Siggy! ‘Come on Adele’, she said, ‘We’re going to do this!’ ‘I’ve had enough Siggy’, ‘Come on!’ On we went, jogging steadily to the next drinks station, the last. Siggy chatted constantly, keeping me going, distracting me. My knee hurt, but I didn’t want to moan because she was so upbeat! We made it through the trees and out to where the tents were, people sitting in deckchairs, cheering, encouraging. Only a few hundred meters to go! We saw Stephen, who had finished a while before us and turned to run up the red carpet! The tape was out, like we were the winners and we held hands to cross the line, hands in the air! We had talked about doing this, but didn’t really imagine we would finish at the same time. Medals were put around our necks and Stephen was there to meet us. I had a little cry, then pulled myself together to hug Siggy and thank her for getting me round the run. It turned out Edward and Hector were at the beach (!) so we went into the food tent and tried to force down some of the delicious food on offer, along with a couple of pints of alcohol-free Erdinger (I love that stuff!). We debriefed, sharing our highs and lows and were soon joined by the boys, who gave us lots of cheers and high-fives
I’m not sure if I will do this race again next year, but only because I like to try different events. It was brilliantly organised, one of the best I’ve been to, with great attention to detail, incredibly friendly marshals, who seemed to appear just as you needed them to point you in the right direction. The venue and course were beautiful, the on-site camping was spot-on and I would heartily recommend this race the anyone thinking of giving it a go. What next? I’m not sure yet, but not an Ironman, stop asking me that question, people!