Where to begin…..
TL;DR – 8 hours. My cold screwed me over. Swim + T1 was 50 minutes (I think my swim was just under 44mins according to my watch but I spent a long time in transition!) cycle + T2 was 4hrs 10 – again I spent a long time in transition and according to my watch my cycle was about 4 hours – so a VERY long time in transition! Then my run was 2 hours 59… About right! Stunningly beautiful in the New Forest and still enjoyable nonetheless!
It was still pitch black when the alarms went off at 5.15am. I’d been exhausted the night before and fallen asleep shortly after 9pm so I had managed a full 8 hours of sleep! We drove the 15mins to the finish, where coaches would take us down to the start – I stole a mug (sorry!) from the pub we were staying at and ate porridge-in-a-mug as mum drove. Nice and bland, the perfect thing for the stomach at that time in the morning.
We got on the coach and had to wait quite a bit while it filled up. However, as it was freezing outside (almost literally) and still pitch black we didn’t mind too much! Just before the coach left, my uncle, Nigel, jumped off, muttering about having forgotten something. We tried to ask what it was but he was in a world of his own. He eventually arrived at transition 2 minutes before it closed on the spectator coach – it turned out he had thought he had forgotten his trainers, having completely forgotten that they were in the run bag we had handed in the night before!
Mum and I arrived at transition with about half an hour to spare and set up, shivering in the cold. There were no queues for the loo and the worst moment came when we had to take our shoes and socks off to put them in our “dry clothes” bag. The ground was SO cold and my feet were numb well before we entered the water!
Although it was no longer dark, the sun hadn’t yet become visible and mist was lying gently over the water. We all got in for a mass start – about 300 of us. The water temp was 16 degrees C so really not too bad and it had been so cold outside that getting in really wasn’t too bad! The mass start was quite funny as most people seemed determined to be at the back / the side, ie out of the way! I was middle and to the side. The gun went and off we went! No kicks, no getting swum over, nobody even touched me so that was great. The first lap was quite stressful as the mist on the lake made sighting quite difficult and there were a lot more people around than I’m used to.
The day before
Having said that, again, I didn’t get caught up in anything and nobody actually kicked/hit me (although I think I did kick someone at the first buoy – sorry!) and I did manage to catch a few feet which probably propelled me forwards until I lost them by swimming diagonally to the right which is what I appear to do! Every time I took a breath I wanted to smile as the sky was bright pink, lit up by the rising sun. It was an incredible sunrise and to be honest, its beauty set the tone for the rest of the day.
The only bad thing on the swim was that I kept needing to cough – thanks cold! Coughing while you are swimming is pretty difficult it turns out and I managed to swallow quite a lot of lake water which instantly made me feel sick. On one occasion I was treading water while coughing and the guy who swam past me asked me if I was okay as he took a breath! I just thought that was so kind.
The swim was soon over and I felt pretty middle of the pack, which I was quite happy with. Mum was drying herself off in transition next to me so we had a quick chat as we dried and got dressed – I put on arm warmers, my jacket, and short fingered gloves. It was so cold! I looked down at my watch as I reached transition and it was showing 45 minutes – I had started my watch slightly early so guessed the swim would be around 44 minutes.
I set off and within a few minutes was heading up the first hill. My fingers were so numb with cold I found it really difficult to change gears and I couldn’t feel my feet – actually it took almost two hours for me to be able to feel my feet again!
The hill was fine though. It was really long but not that steep, with little breaks where it went downhill for a few moments before climbing up again. Not great when changing gears is hard but it was a lot easier later on! The worst part of the whole cycle came when we reached the top of the hill. There we were on a few long straight roads across a ridge on the top of the hill. The views were astounding, but less so was the headwind that battered into me. I was finding it very demoralising as I could see my speed dropping and I was worried about making the cut-off after all the difficulties I’ve had in the last month or so. I had also set my garnish to beep whenever my heart rate went too high and for the whole of that first hill and headwind section it did not stop beeping! Still adjusting coming out of the swim I think. On the last lap I couldn’t get my heart rate high enough…
After about half an hour we turned left and finally had the wind behind us, for a wonderful few miles soaring down downs and swooping straight up ups. This was the point where we went past the finish and there were always a lot of supporters out on this part of the route which was great, everyone cheering and clapping and saying well done. I was going over 40kph without even really trying!
All too soon that was over and we had a steep, twisting downhill on a horrible road surface, a bit of flat and then another uphill. The sun was out by then so I had taken my sunglasses out of my jacket pocket and put them on. I didn’t manage to put them on straight so fiddled with that for a bit, then realised it wasn’t really sunny enough to need them on so I took them back off again. Then I had loads of problems getting them in my back pocket again. By the time all this palaver was done with, I was half way up the hill without really realising!
Then there was a fun downhill and a relatively flat section through several small villages, before starting again. We did the full loop twice, before heading back up and finishing at Sandy Balls, the race finish mentioned earlier.
I was criss-crossing with several people, some of whom were much faster than me on the uphills but a lot slower on the flats and downhill, and others who were the opposite. It’s quite nice because you get to know faces and always say hi. I had to stop in the middle of the steep downhill because there was a herd of cows in the middle of the road! And at another point I had to slow right down as some wild horses had decided that was a good point to cross the road. It was so beautiful and so much fun – I really, really loved it… Until the third headwind section. By then I had had enough!
Towards the end I could see the turning that meant no more headwind, I could see the marshall in his yellow jacket, but no matter how hard I cycled he didn’t seem to be getting any nearer! And a guy overtook me on a hybrid bike without drop handlebars! I was doing a lot of swearing at myself and at the world in general to try to egg myself on / let out my frustration at the wind.
Nutrition-wise, my aim was, every hour, to eat one little clif shot blok with caffeine, and then have one thing of real food – ie a flapjack and then a banana. But something went wrong with this as after 2 and a half hours I just did not want to eat anymore. I had another blok as I decided I could just suck on it as I cycled and I wouldn’t have to think about actually eating it, but by the time it came to eat something 3 hours in, I was not feeling it. I was very bloated – I had started to feel my tummy on my thighs at the top of the up-stroke! And felt a bit sick. I managed to get hiccups which lasted almost an hour and were so strong I occasionally thought I was going to throw up – it was horrible! I think this might have been related to how blocked up I was with my cold. I needed to blow my nose more than I really could when I was cycling, ie constantly, so was sniffing a lot and I think that really contributed…
Finally I was in transition after 4 hours and 3 minutes. I felt pretty sick but on the bright side, had no pain whatsoever in my back and shoulders which I have had whenever I’ve done 90km before. I took a while in transition, sitting down and trying to eat something, blowing my nose a lot(!) and then going to the loo but soon (not that soon, after 7 minutes) I couldn’t put it off any longer and it was time to run!
The first 2km or so were along the road and slightly uphill – I ran all this way and didn’t feel too bad at all. Then we crossed over onto the trail and had a steep downhill whic was great… Followed by a long, steep uphill. But that was fine as I just walked up it – I had decided previously that I was definitely going to walk up hills and through aid stations and then see how I felt for the rest of it.
I felt okay until one long flat stretch in the direct sun – then I started feeling really, really sick. The next section had basically no flats, it was either up or down, and I even ended up walking some of the downhills as I just felt so ill. I was trying to keep my mind focussed by running through my body from toe to head judging what hurt and what was okay. This worked great in my marathon as when I did it I realised that nothing hurt too badly! It didn’t work so well this time as I struggled to find anything that wasn’t in pain – I eventually settled on my elbows being okay!
It was an out and back and so I ran past my uncle who gave me a big hug and then past my mum who stopped to check on me and told me just to walk it out until I felt better. It was lovely running past everyone, all so friendly and saying “well done” and “keep going” and, amusingly “you’re looking good!”
I kept walking, occasionally trying to run but feeling so sick I couldn’t even make four minutes. I had a brief sit-down at the next aid station and a chat with the lovely marshals there, one of whom gave me lots of tissues which was very helpful! I was just having water at this point as I wasn’t sure how High 5 would go down and hadn’t eaten in a few hours.
Then there was a long flat section before a downhill to the turn-around point. I managed to run the downhil but not much of the flat bit! Other than past a herd of huge cows, one of whom was right by the side of the road and staring at me so I wanted to get by as quickly as possible!
I had another sit down at the turn-around aid station, a tiny bit of cereal bar, some water and a sip of High 5. The ladies there were really lovely and helpful, runners themselves who knew what it is like to get nutrition so wrong and were very helpful! As I was sat there the last two runners came in and left so now I was last!
I left just behind the other last woman and quickly caught her up as we powered up the hill together. We spent the whole of the way back leap-frogging each other – whenever I ran I would overtake her, but I would then have to stop and walk as she slowly jogged on. There was another guy I overtook during a running moment as well – often he would catch up to me when I was walking or taking a very long time at aid stations but then I would start to run again and pull away! I felt so tired. For a good hour I was having an internal argument with myself as to whether to curl up on the grass at the side of the trail and have a nap. It looked like the comfiest bed imaginable…!
The nausea started to slightly subside, replaced by a LOT of pain in my left hip and knee, the pain from when the car went into me a few weeks ago. I kept on running downhills, walking uphills and trying to run the flats. In the end I settled on a 1 min run, 1 min walk for the flats and that seemed to work okay.
It was so beautiful. If I haven’t said that enough, it was crazily incredibly beautiful. So much so that even when I was really hurting, I was able to look around me and appreciate just how incredible it was. With the sun and clear blue skies at the end of September as well! We were so lucky with the weather. The two ladies from the last aid station had packed up and were running the trail home – as they caught up to me they stopped and checked I was okay before jogging on – I was very jealous of how lightly they skipped up the hill, chatting as they did so!
That trail is the run route!
Finally I was at the last hill – a long, steep downhill, followed by a short, sharp uphill, and then down the road to the finish. I powered down the downhill, overtaking one person and catching up to the other woman mentioned earlier. She kept running up the hill but I was walking up faster! Once we were on the road we were leap-frogging each other every minute, on my run-walk schedule. Then we had a bit of downhill, so I kept running, and then just when I wanted to stop, my sister and cousin appeared and ran beside me for the last minute as I trudged to the finish line, unable even to muster a smile for the camera.
Everybody clapped as I crossed the line and I sunk gratefully into a chair while a volunteer removed my timechip. Tears were in my eyes as I crossed the finish line – I had done it! Despite wanting to quit and it being so hard, I had persevered onwards and finished. And also, I was in so much pain!
Now I feel like I did post-marathon – standing up from a sitting position and managing stairs is near impossible. I am SO pleased I did it, and despite the pain and not doing as well as I had hoped, I still enjoyed it overall! The volunteers were FANTASTIC, the atmosphere was wonderful, the weather couldn’t have been better and the scenery was just dreamy. With around 300 participants it’s not a small race, and yet retains a family-like atmosphere and the race director even came up to me afterwards to say well done. I would LOVE to do it again, perhaps with slightly better luck on the injury/illness/car accident front so I don’t have to take an enforced month’s taper!!
My uncle did fantastically with a sub-3 hour cycle, finishing in 6 hours 25.
I couldn’t recommend this event more.