18 March 2017

RED BULL NEPTUNE STEPS 2017

420m of swimming, 10.5m of climbing, 8c water temp, multiple rope climbs, 1 rock climbing wall... many inelegant jumps into the water.

This was Red Bull Neptune Steps, and boy did I find it tough.

I saw this event last year, hesitated entering, and watched as it sold out. This year I was online at 10am, waiting to get my hands on an entry spot.

Fast forward a few weeks, two swims under my belt, and wearing my wetsuit for the first time in a many many many months - I was bobbing in the water of an Glasgow canal.

The day was split into the following:
> Eight men's heats
> Three women's
> Two men's semi finals
> Women's final
> Men's final

I was in the second heat which kicked off at 2pm, meaning I had plenty of time to watch the other races and check out the course. And also ask if I had to go over the cargo net or under it... the answer was under.

10 minutes before the start of your heat, we were allowed in the water to warm up. I got straight in, preferring to acclimatise a bit. The water was no means warm, but initially it wasn't as cold as I was expecting. I popped my face in, did a few long breathes, flushed my wetsuit, and finished up with a few warm up strokes - trying to look like I knew what I was doing. Then I started to feel the cold in my hands, and it was not comfortable.
We lined up for the start, and awaited the klaxon. Although it's meant to be non contact, an open water swim start is likely to always have a bit of rough and tumble. The horn sounded, and we were off, beginning with a 100m swim to a cargo net crawl which was on a pontoon. Hoisting myself up I crawled my way under the net, before jumping back into the water.

A 90m swim, and then the first of seven lock climbs. A 4m cargo net climb to ease you in, with the water hitting your face as you try and get on at the bottom. Snailing to the top, I stopped for a quick breather, had a glance down behind me, and then jumped forward. With the two longest swim legs over, next up was a 40m swim leg, followed by a 4m wooden ladder.

The rest went as follows: 25m swim > rope climb > 40m swim > 3m rope ladder (the force of the water at the bottom made it a struggle to get a foot up to start the climb) 25m swim > rope climb > 40m... then onto the penultimate obstacle, which was also my favourite.

A 3m climbing wall proceeds a 25m swim, before the final rope climb. It was then one last jump into the cold, before a crawling swim for 35m to the finish line. A dash under the arch, and that's it. It was over. The final lock provided a diving platform where many showed off a range of seriously impressive posing, including somersaults. This was also the place for my most elegant jump. Think along the lines of a breaching whale... elegance is not in my nature.

Many headed straight for the hot tubs after they'd finished. I wasn't particularly cold at this time, so stripped my wetsuit to my waist and instead immersed my hands in the hot water - hoping to bring some life back to them. After they'd warmed up, I got changed, popped on a beanie, and headed to grab some food.

I watched the rest of the semi's & finals, before heading back to my B&B to try and warm up.
Note to self: if competing in future make sure you take enough layers - I underestimated what my body temp would do after the race.

And that was it, Red Bull Neptune Steps conquered... or slightly conquered, mainly just finished with much elegance and style.

Top race tip: don't roll your ankle the day before and freak out over it. Especially as when you're in water that that's cold, you won't even feel it...

12 February 2017

AR XC

Photos from the last in the series of the XC league.
Advent Running crew putting in ace performances in both the men and women's races.
Snow, mud, slips, incredible teamwork, and the formation of an AR percussion band...
Oh.. and the men's team became Division 4 Champions! 











02 January 2017

2016...

I took A LOT of photos in 2016... So, thought I'd do a quick round up of some of my favourites.

02 October 2016

IRONMAN MALLORCA 2016

After Ironman Wales last September I wrote this post, and said how I didn't have any plans for a long distance triathlon in 2016, however it was something I would be interested in doing again.

Fast forward to the 24th September 2016 and I'm standing on a beach in Port d'Alcudia, the start line of the 3rd edition of Ironman Mallorca...

As with my Wales recap, this is going to be a long one. For the purpose of this post, distances shall be in km, although I'm really a fan of the mile system.

With a second Ironman there are somethings that you expect going into the race, but as with any different event there are a series of firsts to be had. For me this one held; my bike's first trip abroad, my first race abroad, my first mountain, my first Iroman with a non wetsuit swim.

Going into this race I didn't really have any specific goals that I was vocal about, the only one I had in the back of my mind was getting a PB and doing a good bike leg. When people asked me my goals, I usually gave the following list (the first being top goal, the fourth being a dream scenario):
- Finishing
- PB'ing
- PB'ing, with a strong bike
- Finishing sub 13
To say I didn't "train" for this race can be interpreted in different ways. I didn't train for an Ironman, I didn't really train for a triathlon, but I did do a lot of training. And I enjoyed the way I trained. I rode my bike, A LOT. A few days before the race I had hit around 12,000km of cycling for 2016. Running on the other hand had been severely low. I wasn't expecting much for the run of Mallorca, but I knew I could still make the finish cut off it if I had a good swim and bike. Although I had come to terms with the fact I hadn't done much run training, it didn't stop me regretting not running more. But the training had been what it had been, and I enjoyed riding my bike a considerable amount more than my experience last year. For me enjoying the sport, and my "training" was something that I do not regret.

Race week.
I flew out on to Mallorca on Wednesday, a few days before the race in order to settle, and mainly to sort out any problems with my bike if they arose. That night I assembled my bike, awaited the arrival of Lara (my friend who had come out to ride mountains and support) and then basically did nothing else. Thursday; I tested my bike, registered, pottered for many hours by the pool, met up with Lara & KPP for lunch, then chilled some more. Friday was the busy day. A short run, a practice swim, packing of transition bags, the race briefing, re-packing of the transition bags, bike racking, the final checking of the transition bags. A walk back to the accommodation, in the rain, followed by eating, rest, and relaxation. Or as much relaxation as you can get a day before you're about to swim 3.8km, ride 180km, and then run 42.2km.

An early bedtime, ready for the next day...

Race morning.
When you regularly get up at 4/4:30am multiple times throughout the year, an early start on race morning isn't so bad. Breakfast was 4 shredded wheat, and one banana. Plain and simple. I had a party in the bathroom to Ellie Goulding, watched "Rise & Swim" many times, then danced a bit more. We left around 6am to go to transition. As we neared the entrance we saw a large number of people heading back the other way. This isn't the more reassuring thing to see on race morning. Someone shouted that the swim had been changed to wetsuit legal, the water temp had dropped to 24.5c. For me, this news was fine. I had always gone into this race with the intention of a non wetsuit, for others who had just arrived in taxis without their wetsuits - not so much.

With nutrition on the bike, we walked to the beach ready for the start. In the distance thunder rumbled, and forks of lightening lit up the sky. An atmospheric start to the beach swim. A couple of warm up paddles, a pre race photo, and all too soon it was time to head to the starting pen.

Swim.
I'd seeded myself in the 1:10-1:20 pace group. I was confident in my swimming, and thought this was the best place for me to be. I looked around a saw a handful of others in swimsuits, the majority of the field had decided to don the neoprene. Another dance party to the music as the pro set off. Then it was our turn. A final glance at the sunset that was unfolding to our left, then a jog towards the water. Numerous beeps of our timing chips as we crossed the mat and our countdown clock officially began.

This was my third open water swim of the year, one having been the practice swim, the other a "Pondathlon" a few weeks back on Hampstead Heath - slightly different scenarios. I was tossed, hit in the head, and climbed over multiple times. Things you expect to happen in a large open water event. I was squashed between two men, both in wetsuits, on multiple occasion. I may have shouted some rude words many a time during those 3.8kms.

The swim in Mallorca is made from two loops, one larger one, an Aussie exit, then a smaller loop. I checked my watch on the exit and couldn't do the maths to work out my pace. Swimming maths has never been a skill I've possessed. I dove back in knowing I didn't have much further to go. One final bouy turn around and onto the final stretch, back to the beach where it had all started.

Out of the swim, running onto the beach, stripping of my goggles and swim cap. You run through a shower situation where I began to take down my swimsuit (side note - I was actually wearing a sports bra underneath, not stripping naked..). To say these photos were unflattering - would be an understatement.

Into T2, a semi speedy change, and I then began the run, in my snazzy socks a long a carpeted transition, to my bike..

Bike. I clumsily carried by glasses & shoes in hand, grabbed my bike, and headed for the mount line. A less than elegant putting on of my bike shoes, and off I went. The bike course was ace. I loved it. It had a mountain, speedy flats, and an ever so heavy rain storm.

A long flat section leads you out through the town and into the distance. With my legs feeling like jelly I tried a couple of big gear movements to try and wake them up. For the first 20km they felt this way. I spent time too'ing and fro'ing with a lady a on TT bike, she passed me on the flats, and I passed on the slight climbs. After she sped of into the distance, I began to take the views in. There was a speedy section for around 30km, my average speed amazed me. At just under 100k you find yourself coming back into Alcudia, a brief visit before heading out back onto the course - this time with Col de Femenia in your sights. The climb was long but mainly one that you could sit in an easy gear and spin it out - a few switchbacks saw me get out of the saddle. About a third of the way up the heavens decided to open. By open, it was like a flood gate. Incredibly heavy rain that was bouncing from the tarmac. A fellow Brit cycled passed me. We looked at each other and laughed. "Just light cycling at home" I said, barely being able to be heard above the rain. This weather continued to the summit. I got very excited by the sign. It meant I was well ahead of the cut off - something I'd been worried about again this year as I had been with Wales. I was soaked through by this point and worried that the descent would be wet and dangerous. However, it was quite the opposite, the sun had appeared, the road was bone dry, the descent was rad. I had a great time heading down the switchbacks and down the mountain.

As we reached the base, the rain decided to return, and continue all the way back into town. With 10k left I looked down at my Garmin and saw my watch ticking around the 6 hour mark. Insane, I thought to myself.

6 hours and 18 minutes after I'd left transition, I was heading back in to change into my run gear.
I reached the dismount line, took of my shoes, and a made a soggy run to rerack.

I plodded over to the changing tent, and got ready for the run. I put on some clean socks, but these wouldn't stay dry for long. Sadly, the suncream I had packed remained in the bag, it would not be needed on this occasion.

Run.
A lot of walking, and the occasional jogging happened. 5 hours and 7 minutes after the marathon had began, I crossed the finish line.

4.5 laps of a course - not ideal. You get the final red band and know you're on the way to finish line. A finish line that still remains 7k away. By this point my feet were giving up, the outside and bridges started to ache. Those final 7ks were a walk, job, walk, walk, walk affair. Crossing the bridge for the final time, you the hit the "blue carpet" of the beach path. You walk past the people that have cheered you on for all the previous laps. It's not long to go now. The 41k sign comes in sight. The longest 1k I've ever experienced. A hobble, a shuffle, and then a jog. With less than half a kilometre to go, it's the last leg. Finally the finish shoots appears, and this time you turn right.

Now at this moment people normally savoir the experience, they soak up the atmosphere, they walk over the line and do a power pose. Anddddddd this was not me. I ran into the finishing shoot with a gentleman. Paul Kaye was announcing his name. I didn't want to ruin his moment, I wanted him to experience a solo red carpet. So I found myself sprinting for the line, into the lights...

And then it was all over in a blur. I was given my medal, had a photo taken, and spotted Lara at the barrier. I ran towards her, gave her a huge hug, and turned around to see others finishing. Looking at their times I spotted 12:XX:XX. I had a realisation, had I actually managed sub 13?! I wouldn't find out until I was back at the hotel that I had actually managed a finishing time of below the 13th hour. I was esctatic and incredibly happy.

An Ironman PB, a great bike, a sub 13 time. With disbelief, I'd discovered I'd accomplished my goals.

Recovery.
A HUGE bowl of chocolate granola, pool time, another bowl of granola, and a massive two scoop icecream. With two days post race, I hit the beach, enjoyed the sun, and relaxed. When I got home from Wales I went and got an ear piercing, rather than the traditional tattoo. With another Ironman done, and when one is in Mallorca... another ear piercing was had.

And then I got a cold. My event was done, and my body was done too. I headed back to London with a great experience in my memories, a medal in my hand luggage, and thoughts of a third Ironman very much in the front of my thoughts.

So, for 2017 I'm not going to say either way whether I'll be doing a long distance triathlon... because at the moment I just don't know.

Thank you to everyone who sent good luck messages throughout training, before the race, words of encouragement when I questioned what I was doing. And to all those who put up with me on training rides and runs. YOU ARE THE BEST.