Lidl Bananaman Triathlon Race Report

Who wouldn’t enjoy a race that involves this journey to the venue?

Happy cyclists!

Happy cyclists!

As we don’t have a car and I needed to transport my bike (and Hector was super keen to try out his new bike), we took all of our bikes on the train to Windsor and rode the two or so miles to Eton Dorney along the Thames Path. At the station we saw people dismantling their bikes to put into taxis…no need, just ride! And look at what greeted us on arrival!

The lake.

The lake.

I was a little taken aback at the vastness of the lake – with it being a purpose-built rowing lake, it’s loooooong. I took it all in, clocking the inflatable buoys and breaking it down into the little chunk that I would actually be tackling later on in the Lidl Bananaman Triathon. Phew. It is a stunning venue and the party was already in full swing, with little ones tearing around wearing medals picked up in the Scootathlon and older athletes already exiting the water for one of the earlier waves of the triathlon. Feeling relaxed and a little bit excited, I got myself a cuppa and headed over to registration where I was given everything I needed, promptly and with a big smile.

Registration

Registration

As the event was sponsored by Lidl, there were mountains of bananas, as much water/juice/crisps/cereal bars as you could ever need and a barbeque for competitiors and spectators, now how many events boast such hospitality?! With it being about 10.15, my support crew needed a pre-lunch lunch.

Hungry boys

Hungry boys

I paced up and down, checking out the swimmers, making sure the entry into the water wasn’t too scary and making sure I could see the bike out/run out points – not sure why, but the signs for these are often placed at ground level and, once transition is full of bikes and people darting about, it’s difficult to see where they are. Any chance these could be identified by a flag or something? After numerous nervous loo-visits (oh, how the tri-suit is the enemy of such pre-race nervousness!), I decided I should just get on with it and set up in transition. At this point I switched my Garmin on to get a signal and found that the battery was flat. After a minor hissy fit, I decided that it didn’t matter and I would embrace ‘going naked’, could be interesting!

Still relaxed!

Still relaxed!

Before long I was pulling on my wetsuit and heading to the water. Eek! Now, I’ve been very carefully preparing for my first open-water triathlon, with wetsuit-specific coached sessions and solo swims to build confidence, so I was totally thrown when given the option to go without a wetsuit – if the water reaches a certain temperature you have a choice. After much umming and ahhing I decided to stick with what I had planned – Edward pointed out that I had taken on this particular race as a practice/test event for future races and should use it to try out the wetsuit in the swim and transition. I’m so glad I did, the water didn’t feel that warm! I was in a women’s wave (complete with bright pink hats, oh yes) and we all bobbed about, acclimatising while the race organiser gave us a briefing then quickly sent us on our way with a loud parp of the horn. Cue lots of ‘Ooh, sorry!’ and ‘Oops!’ comments from my fellow swimmers, really! And I had heard horror stories about being kicked, ducked and having your goggles removed. How very civilised!

That's me, there!

That’s me, there!

Interestingly, I found this open-water swim easier in terms of managing panic than the pool tri in May, as there was nobody tapping at my heels, I could take some deep breaths, compose myself and do as much breast-stroke as I liked 🙂 And I did. Even after swimming front-crawl up and down the Serpentine Lido, I found myself bobbing along, head in the air. I did a few stretches of front-crawl as I grew more confident and off I went. I did it! I climbed up the ramp towards transition, whipped off my wetsuit like a pro and legged it to bike out. Yesssss!

The bike course was 21.2km, so four laps of a perfectly flat and lovely smooth road (it was pretty twisty and turny in places though and quite windy). The bike is always my favourite bit of a triathlon and I flew around, smiling all the way. Each time I reached the start area I was given a huge cheer by my crew and sent off into the next lap. After all my training sessions at the Olympic Velopark, I was swiftly pulling out my drinks bottle and taking a swig, unlike previous races where I’ve ended up dehydrated and turning green. Oh, what a difference a few swigs of electrolyte replacement makes.

Time to hang up my bike and pull on my running shoes, but not without banging my head on the bike rack first and shouting ‘B*ll*cks!’. Sorry. By this point it was hot and the run route was an out and back stretch fully exposed to the sun. I kept giving myself little pep talks: ‘Relax your shoulders. Light on your toes. Head tall. Arms lower.’ – this all really helped, especially at the point where I realised it wasn’t just an out and back, it was an out and back and out and back again. This is also where I appreciated my on-bike hydration and enjoyed a tri-run without crippling cramp. Carrying on the pep-talk, I soon turned to face the finish and picked up the pace towards the barbecue smoke and the giant Erdinger glass to give a little sprint through the arch and a very happy ending.

Thank you Hector for the photo!

Thank you Hector for the photo!

A few sweaty high-fives, a hug from a giant banana and I found myself holding a pint of ice-cold beer and a burger. Result! (I must point out that this was alcohol-free beer and bloody good it was too!). Hector punched in my race number to the machine that pumps out results and I could see how I had faired, competing somewhat blindly without the Garmin feedback…

The numbers

The numbers

I can’t really compare directly with my last triathlon because the swim distance is shorter and the bike slightly longer, but it’s a tri-PB for the bike and run (and check those transitions!), so I’m very pleased. Best of all was the fact that I could see that my training is paying off, I didn’t have cramp and I felt amazing afterwards as we cycled back towards Windsor. Thank you to Human Race for giving me a place – I’m already looking up future events at Eton Dorney and will be back next year to see if I can smash those times.

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Fast and Hard

This getting faster is really, really hard work. A few weeks ago I took part in the British 10k London Run and was absolutely delighted to sneak under the 50 minute mark and get myself a PB. It had felt hard, and I thought I ought to fit in another 10k race before my duathlon in September, so signed up for the British Heart Foundation Victoria Park 10k, which took place yesterday. We decided to head over there by bike and overground, so we could ride around and the boys could enjoy the park while I ran, unfortunately Hector picked up a puncture as we arrived in Haggerston, so I headed along the canal to Victoria Park while they tried to sort out the puncture 😦

The atmosphere at the park was relaxed and friendly, with people milling around, collecting t-shirts, putting bags in the baggage area and taking selfies.

Chillin'

Chillin’

The junior race was started, then we were called over to join in the warm-up. Erm, I just swung my legs about at the edge and tried to look serious while people around me jumped around. We were then ushered into a very narrow funnel to face an arch that had ‘finish’ written on it. And we were off. This was a three lap race and very flat, with nice wide roads and paths to overtake the many walkers (yes, lots of people were walking. I did feel like calling cheerily ‘Give it a go!’ but didn’t have enough breath). I had really wanted to run under 50 minutes again and hoped to achieve a similar time to the other week, but I wasn’t feeling amazing and had to give myself little pep talks and work out how much longer it would take me to finish. My energy and enthusiasm was lifted when I saw Edward and Hector at the end of the first lap, smiling and waving: ‘I fixed my puncture Mum!’

The run was largely shaded by trees, but it did feel hot and my stomach was not feeling very happy, so it was push, push, push, head down and teeth gritted to get to the end. I had noticed that my Garmin was measuring short and, as I entered the finish funnel (as you did on each lap) I was confused about whether or not I had actually finished. Some runners had another lap to go and were heading left, spectators were blocking the way to the right and I walked right past the drinks and medals. I spoke to a marshal though and he kindly went to get a medal for me. When I pointed out that the course seemed short, he reassured me that they had measured it accurately with a wheel…

So, my official time is 46:42! This is getting silly!

I then got on my bike and headed over to the playground, where Hector had found something fun to entertain him:

Sand fun

Sand fun

The playground at Victoria Park really is great, even if you’re a bit bigger…

Post-race play

Post-race play

Chasing a PB at the British 10k London Run

It would be amazing to get a good, solid night’s sleep before a race, but I doubt many people do. I didn’t, and kept waking at every noise, so was ever so slightly grumpy when my alarm went off at 6.30. I had checked the TFL website on Saturday night to find that trains from my station wouldn’t be running early enough so, once I’d sneaked out of the house as quietly as I possibly could (this didn’t stop a small sleepy-head appearing at the top of the stairs…), I cycled over to Lewisham to catch a train. I hadn’t checked my entire planned route, so found myself crowded on a tube train with a mixture of sporty people and still-drunk people, all being kicked off at Waterloo. I might have been on my way to the New Balance VIP area, but I’m sure ‘real’ VIPs don’t find themselves legging it sweatily through a city to get to the start with stress levels set at number 10!

Perfect shoes for the day

Perfect shoes for the day

When I did eventually reach The Cavalry and Guards Club on Picadilly, I was delighted to be directed upstairs by a very smiley and enthusiastic concierge, taking in the sumptuous surroundings as I climbed the wide staircase. The people at New Balance had very kindly laid on a delicious-looking breakfast, but most runners were politely sipping tea or topping up their water levels, having already had their pre-race breakfast before setting off (the big breakfast was just what I needed after the race!). At this point I was thinking less about eating and more about needing the loo, that annoying ‘I’m sure I need the loo AGAIN’ thing you do pre-race. Being in such lovely surroundings, the loo visit was actually rather nice and certainly beats a portaloo any day!

For Ladies

For Ladies

Ahead of the race starting, there were a few special moments when a procession of war horses made their way along Picadilly, accompanied by poems written by soldiers and some beautiful singing by the Military Wives Choir. From our vantage point on the balcony, we could see the crowds of colourful runners waiting patiently to start. I believe the start at last year’s race had been quite congested, but this year everything seemed to have been considered thoroughly, with each wave being slowly guided into place before setting off. I headed down to the start line and rather inelegantly clambered over a barrier (I was told to do this, I wasn’t gate-crashing, honest) and found myself right at the front, with the elites and a couple of thousand Help For Heroes runners. It was at this moment that I realised my Garmin had switched itself off and I had to try and get a signal in the 20 seconds left…I crossed the start line looking at my watch and waiting for it to get itself into gear, not a great start!

The start

The start

The crowds at this point were great, lots of really good cheering from the friends and family along one side and the runners still waiting to set off along the other. I pushed hard and tried – for a while at least – to stay near the front 🙂 In November I ran the Movember 10k in Greenwich Park and managed a PB of 53.14 (whilst wearing a knitted moustache), so really wanted to try and beat this time, with a little goal in my head of going sub-50. This would mean consistently running 5 minute kms, but my Garmin was having trouble giving me an accurate pace, so I was going by how I felt and allowing myself to be swept along with the runners and with the enthusiasm of the crowd.

I have found, through running parkrun as much as I can, that I enjoy a familiar course and knowing where I can push and where to hold back. I had looked briefly at the map of the route for this race, and I know the roads on the course pretty well, but I was surprised at how quickly I reached the next landmark. There was plenty of twisting and turning, with a long stretch along the Embankment and a slight low-point going through Blackfriars Tunnel (where my Garmin went all silly on me). I remembered this from the London Marathon, about three miles from the end…

Now we had the treat of seeing the faster runners heading back towards Big Ben and I gave a little cheer to the front runners. In no time at all I was in the same position with thousands of other runners across the barriers, still to enjoy that turning point ahead. One thing I would suggest improving on next year is the size of the KM markers, I missed a few (this is a good thing!) and it might be nice to be able to spot them ahead to give you a little push (especially as my Garmin wasn’t giving me an accurate reading). Now I was beginning to tire a little, and the run over Westminster Bridge felt longer than it had looked on the map. As I had visualised the course ahead of the race, I had seen myself take a right turn after Big Ben and sprint towards the finish, but oh no, it was through Parliament Square and a long slog out to Victoria before I could even think about finishing! What a relief to see the finish arch and to hear the crowds. I looked up at the clock and could see that, if I legged it, I might just make it under 50 minutes. This effort involved me making a lot of noise and pumping my arms possibly more than I needed to, but I just sneaked under as the clock ticked on.

At this point, walking up towards Trafalgar Square, I realised that, when you are running this sort of distance and running hard, scenery is largely irrelevant – I saw runners ahead of me, passing through the square and really couldn’t remember having done so myself! That’s how hard I was focussing! By now I had contacted the boys and it turned out they were at the finish line, looking really hard for me at the 50 minute point. Oops! I picked up my bag and medal, drank lots of water, and hoped that the official time would show what I wanted it to show…

Obligatory medal shot

Obligatory medal shot

…it did. 49.52, 43rd lady out of 8518, 453rd overall. Chuffed.

I would like to wish a huge congratulations to my friend Helen who, five months after giving birth, was back out there yesterday and run/walking the whole course with her friend Jo. What an inspiration!

I am a Triathlete

I did it, my first triathlon! It was amazing. I want to do it again.

I felt good: I had trained well, with four runs a week, three or four swims a week and cycling when I could fit it in (this bit could have been more structured) and felt strong yesterday morning as I pulled on my tri-suit and headed over to Crystal Palace Park. Yesterday we shared the park with some Minis, who were heading out to Brighton, as we headed in…

Paris, London

Paris, London

I was arriving with my parkrun friends Stephen and Siggy and, during registration and set-up, bumped into Sally, Marie, Ian, David and Viv…that’s the nice thing about attending a local race! By this point I was really, really nervous, and quickly laid out my bike and all my race essentials in transition before grabbing my swimming cap and goggles and heading poolside. I commented to the people around me that the swim looked quite relaxed, there was something quite meditative about watching people zig-zagging up and down the 50m pool…until it came to my turn.

I had trained so well, swimming many hours up and down my local pool, trying out different pools on our travels and venturing over to the Olympic swimming pool to try the 5om distance, but this was different. I climbed down what seemed to be a really long ladder into cold water with nothing on the pool sides to grab hold of before a marshal called ‘Three, two, one, go!’ (this was repeated at fifteen second intervals). Suddenly I felt panic, I was breathing in, but not out and couldn’t put my face in the water. I did a feeble attempt at a breaststroke, with my head out, thinking: ‘Breathe, breathe, you can do this! You’ve done this so many times! Why now?!’ (afterwards Edward told me that he and Stephen were at poolside mouthing ‘Breaststroke?!’). But I stuck at it, there was no way, after all of this excellent training that I was going to stop. Things felt a bit easier as I went on, moving gradually across the pool. The sun shone on this section, making it feel nicer, brighter and warmer, the end was in sight and I dared to put my face in. I tried a front-crawl and overtook some swimmers ahead of me, I could do this. Soon enough I was in the final lane and could see Edward, Stephen and Hector cheering and waving, I smiled and took the lane.

Now to transition. I had been awake throughout the previous night, worrying about transition, but I needn’t have been concerned. I was told not to run, so waddled damply to my spot, talked through my planned routine, chatted to a fellow athlete and off I went. Easy! (I did forget my sunglasses though, and on a 25 degree day, it might have been more comfortable).

That's me in the middle

That’s me in the middle

It was such a relief to get out of the pool and onto my bike. Now this section was a bit of an unknown quantity to me, and I didn’t have a clue how long it might take, so I just went for it. It was my favourite part of the race, I LOVED it! The course is lovely: nine laps of the park, largely in the shade of the trees (phew), with one sharp hill as you leave transition and a superb down-hill section on your return. I love a hill, whether running or riding, so I would put my head down and take it on with determination each time. As I reached the flatter road, I changed gear, did a bit of overtaking and whooped my way down the hill (if I wasn’t clipped in, I would definitely have had my legs out).

Happy!

Happy!

I had been worried about keeping track of the laps, and that my Garmin might not have a signal during transition, so Edward had taped some masking tape to my frame to tear off at the end of each lap. All seemed to be going well, so I left the tape and used my Garmin and a steady chant of the lap number in my head. As the laps went on I thought I had another to go but, when I looked at the distance I saw 20k. Running into transition 2 my muddled head told me I had another lap, but the Garmin was pretty clear!

I wobbled through transition on an unsteady combination of cycle shoes and spinning legs, a quick change of footwear, an addition of my shades and a gulp of Lucozade Sport (bad move) and I was off again. Oh, it felt very odd. It was straight up the hill and I felt heavy and slow, though my Garmin showed a good pace considering. I looked sideways at the cyclists, thinking: ‘I wish I was still doing that’ but finding that, after nine laps of the park, the two and a bit laps of the run went very quickly and, before I knew it, I was heading into the stadium.

Edward's panoramic view

Edward’s panoramic view

I threw my arms in the air as I took to the track, such joy! I heard a whistle and the beat of a tambourine and saw my support crew of Edward and Hector in the stands waving and cheering 🙂 Just a lap and a half to go now. As I saw the finish line, I ran hard, a bounce in my step.

Look at that hair go!

Look at that hair go!

And there I was, a triathlete!

Gold?

Gold?

Despite the poor swim experience, I loved it. I am eagerly looking for another event, to keep up the momentum and will definitely be trying for a place at Crystal Palace again next year. It’s such a great event for a first timer in particular: super friendly marshals who even looked up your name on a list to call out encouragement, a delightful bike and run course, a course that is perfect for spectators, with many ways of navigating the different disciplines to make sure you see all of the action, and a perfectly placed transition for viewing from above – it was odd looking up during transition and seeing lots of peering faces – and you even get a print-out of your results shortly after crossing the finish line!

I’ve really enjoyed the build-up to this event and a big thank you to everyone who helped me to reach this point 🙂

1.37.59

 

New Running Accessory Alert!

I’m not really one to add bulk to my run, preferring to leave the house with just my Garmin and, if I’m feeling particularly gadgety, my iPod Shuffle; I just don’t like having too many things to think about. I was rather taken with this new accessory though:

The Running Mat

The Running Mat

The Running Mat will be familiar to those of you who watch Dragon’s Den on the BBC – I stopped watching DD when the dragons started being unnecessarily cruel to the poor hopeful business people (and I also find it hard to watch things through my hands, some of those presentations are squirmingly uncomfortable). The makers of The Running Mat were not causing any squirming though, and were strong enough to persuade both of the sour-looking female Dragons to invest in their product – well done! But what’s it all about?

The Running Mat is a portable exercise mat with a wide strap to allow you to carry it easily even whilst running.

Rear-view

Rear-view

The mat sits around your waist, rather like a slightly bulkier fuel belt, and can easily be opened out when a bit of resistance work takes your fancy.

Ready for action

Ready for action

I can see how this could be an excellent addition to the equipment bag of a personal trainer, but it’s not something you would want to take on a longer run. I have been in the position of having to try to fit in my running and resistance training wherever I can during the long school holiday, and it’s certainly something I can take on a shorter speed session and then have the flexibility of doing some floor work in the park en route. We haven’t had much of a mud problem of late, but the parched grass can be mighty spiky! I think The Running Mat will come into its own as the weather gets wetter and colder, offering a barrier between you and the uninviting mud. My own testing of the mat took place on our camping holiday in Devon and I found it perfect for a post-coastal-path-trek stretch and even took it to the beach to sit on whilst warming up after a rather bracing swim 🙂

PB or not PB?

That is the question. I ran around the track this morning. I wanted to see how fast I could run 5k. My legs have been a bit heavy since Tuesday so I wasn’t expecting much. I set off and, at the end of the first lap I glanced at my Garmin, which wasn’t registering distance or pace, so I fiddled around for a moment and still nothing was happening so I just kept going. Part way round lap 2 it picked up a signal but the pace was something daft like 24 minute miles. On I went, gritting my teeth, slightly disheartened by the lack of cooperation from my wrist mate, but determined to stick to the pace I had reached. When I finished my 5k I was slightly disappointed with the time as it appeared on my watch, but boosted by the kind comments from the gym manager who was marvelling at how ‘strong’ I had looked all the way around 🙂

Now I’m back home I’ve uploaded the run and this is what it says:

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/241568849

So, any ideas? Did I run under 26 minutes? I’m hoping the 25.45 ‘moving time’ is the one. If so, I’m getting there, if not, must work harder.

Toughing it out

Yesterday I managed to over-commit slightly in the running department: a friend has decided to start an informal running group for beginners on a Tuesday morning and I offered to help by joining in. When I thought about this it occurred to me that Tuesday in my new world is also Running Club Night. Oh dear. So, being a committed sort of person, I found myself in the park first thing and last thing, pounding the paths. It was nice to run with Helen, who has been out with an injury for months, so needed the motivation to test her body and see if things really are ready to go again. The sun was shining and the park looked gorgeous with its golden autumnal glow. For some reason I was out in the cold in capri tights, my lower legs all cold and goosebumpy, when really I should be thinking about wrapping myself up in something like this (and maybe even wearing these under my jeans on Parkrun duty – all that standing around cheering people on is limb-numbing on a frosty morning!).

I had tried to take it easy on my first run, knowing I would need some miles in my legs for the evening session, there were moments where I wished I hadn’t ventured out in lycra that morning, this club run was possibly the toughest session I have ever done. Now I like a hill, it’s in my Welsh blood, I am a mountain goat, but this was a Proper Hill Session, none of that thing I do by myself, where I run up a hill and jog back down, repeat, then saunter along on the flat. Did I mention it was tough? We started with a mile around the track to warm up, then we ran up to Hilly Fields, where we gathered at the bottom of a hill (the one by the phone box, for anyone who knows the area) where we were informed of our fate. We were to run up this hill, take a left and run down the hill on the other side, that’s run down the hill, no holding back, heel to toe. We would wait at the far corner for three minutes and come back the other way. This was to be repeated four times on each side. Yes really. Then off everyone went, fast. On the first one I wondered if this was going to be the session that would make me vomit (it didn’t), and wondered if my legs would have felt this bad if I had missed the morning run (probably), I also found that running fast down hill in the dark whilst avoiding other runners, potholes and the odd wandering dog out for its evening pee is scary. As the session went on I wondered if I really had it in me to complete the task in hand, my legs felt like lead, my chest hurt and I momentarily hated running, but things kind of warmed up a bit. The thing I like about repeating a lap is the moment where you are not sure how many you’ve done and (hopefully) you’ve under-counted, so the last two seemed to come round fairly fast. Not wishing to be overtaken at the end by the woman who had overtaken me without fail at the same point each lap, I legged it, arms pumping, face tense and it felt good. Just look at these stats!