Bilbao Triathlon 

22 May

It’s been a long 8 months since Ironman Wales and though I’ve been silent, I haven’t been entirely idle!

With Dai having qualified for Ironman 70.3 World Champs in Chattanooga this year, it’s his turn to take priority & despite having loved every minute of the ironman race day, I loathed an awful lot of the training so going long was off the agenda.

70.3 is a distance that suits me, I’m such a diabolical swimmer that I need a longer bike and run so that I can make up my losses compared to other people!

I couldn’t decide on which race to enter & had whittled it down to a short list of 3, including Bilbao Half Distance Triathlon. At exactly the right moment UKTriChat launched a competition to win entry & accommodation for Bilbao. I duly entered and thought: “if I win, it’s meant to be”!

So – in the interest of full disclosure, yes, I won. Yes, I went as a guest of the Bilbao Triathlon organisers & was therefore somewhat predisposed to view it in a positive light, however they asked nothing of me (like a glowing review) in return! 

Training went pretty well. I’ve been more stressed than usual lately & not sleeping all that well but other than that I managed to get it all done.

Van loaded, we were off and ready to race.

A short flight later we arrived in Bilbao. Causing much consternation at the airport taxi rank as the drivers debated what sort of vehicle they could get my bike in, we were spotted by Eneko from the event organisers. He was there to greet the pros but made me feel like one too!

Bilbao is lush. Can’t recommend it highly enough. Clean, feels very safe, attractive with super friendly people. And the food…..OMG the food is awesome. I was a little distraught by having to hold back in the pre race days!

Registration was a slick, simple affair. Fantastic goody bag with both a bike jersey and a run top to take home. A winning combo in my book!


Then the race briefing. This is the only area where I came a cropper! Approximately 4 sentences were in English and the only Spanish I managed to decipher were “rapido” and “technico”. The descent I gathered would need some care and attention. To be fair to the organisers in a field of 1200 odd people there were (I think)  5 English speakers total! The triathlon officials in transition & Eneko spoke perfect English and were very happy to help at every point. Post briefing and transition was all laid out.


Time to get an early night and put the game face on!

Saturday morning racking. I went early. You can see for yourself this is not the Spanish way! 

I wondered if anyone else was coming! Interesting little Spanish specific, rule on racking – no swim cap, no entry to transition! Quick dash back to the hotel and all was well. Lucky I racked early after all!

As I did the wetsuit dance by the side of the river awaiting my start time, we got to watch the Olympic distance racers set off. 

That’s when the panic started to set in! There’d been an awful lot of rain in Bilbao lately and the river was cold. Not Brit cold but certainly Spanish cold and they were fishing out people left, right & centre! My confidence faltered a little. 

No time for that, jump in, let’s go!

All the ladies set off together. All 34 of us! The great thing about this swim is the support. Normally you don’t get much of that in a swim, but I could see Dai & Will most of the time and I could hear them shouting for me. It did make me feel more comfortable. That said, I had a shocker of a swim. I don’t know if it was the cold water, never having swum in a river before, the first open water swim of the year or what, but I was slow. Dead slow, actually dead last lady, which I realised when I noticed I had my own personal paddle board escort 🙄.

11.5 mins down on what I’d normally expect! That’s massive & I was disappointed. Bugger all I could do except ride my bike like I stole it! 

The bike leg was superb. The course is spectacular. Spanking fast for the most part with one pretty whopping climb that you do twice. Magical views on the climb made it pass pretty quickly. 

This was the best organised road closure method I’ve ever seen. At all times we were kept safely in a wide lane to ourselves whilst the volunteers and police moved the traffic around us. Not one irate driver & actually loads of kids hanging out of car windows to cheer us on. Loved loved loved it! 

T2, daps on, oh crap I feel like I’m gonna die! The first 3 miles of the half marathon I was fairly convinced I wouldn’t finish. I’ve never felt so horrid on a run. That swim took a lot more out of me than I realised. I saw Dai and Will at about mile 4, “how’re you feeling” dai asked, “well I was suicidal but now I’m a bit better”. I realise that sounds a tad over dramatic but anyone who’s hit the wall/bonked knows! 

Anyway my mood and pace both picked up, the relentlessly enthusiastic supporters on the run course lifted me & I finished strongly. Having got out the water in 34th. I finished in a less abysmal 22nd! Not too shabby an improvement. Just need to fix that tricksy swim!

All done, a much tougher race than it looks on paper but I loved every minute of my trip to Bilbao & will certainly go back. It’s also made me want to explore the Basque region more. Great food, great wine, great people, oh and great cycling. What’s not to like? 

Massive thanks to Eneka, the team @BilbaoTriathlon and of course UKTriChat, just a brilliant experience from start to finish. 

http://bilbaotriathlon.com/?lang=en
Keep trucking 

V 😊

Finally! I am an Ironman :)

21 Sep

Its been a long old season and I had meant to update you more frequently but to be honest the year didn’t go to plan and all I had for you was bitching or moaning.  No one wants to hear that so I didn’t write.

Entering Ironman Wales (IMW) was one of the scariest things I have ever committed to. There are 3 races I’ve watched Dai (hubby & all round hero) do that I fundamentally didn’t believe I had in me to complete.  Snowdon Marathon I ticked off in 2012, but could I really manage the other 2?

Committed and entered, training commenced.  Just as I was finding my mojo a young chap in a Ford Focus didn’t feel that stopping to let me across a zebra crossing fitted with his journey plan. Crash, bang, wallop, a knee the size of my head, an arm that sported all the colours of the rainbow and a hand with a not very useful thumb.

Several weeks off all together, many hours of physio, a lot of tears and we suddenly find ourselves only a few weeks away from 70.3 UK in Exmoor.  I managed a meagre amount of training and off we popped to the land of zero mobile signal or wifi.

(photo credit Huw Fairclough)

What would follow was the toughest lesson in suffering, on a run leg, I had ever learnt.  It wouldn’t prove to be the toughest lesson I would learn this year but its certainly the first time I have run til I puked!  Literally puked but because I was passing a very nice family who were being all sorts of encouraging, I would force it back down and spend the rest of the race in all sorts of trouble!img_1896

What a hideous race.  NEVER again.  My mother pointed out that I looked worse after that than even after MdS!

Training recommenced but I by now I was down.  Down but not totally beaten.  My bike is normally my strength and all my power was gone.  I couldn’t climb, I had no enjoyment and my injured right arm/hand were causing all sorts of problems on the handlebars.

Long course weekend.  One of my all time favourite weekends of the year.  First time completing 3.8km of sea swimming – massive boost. rith1375Next day, died a death and failed to finished the 112mile bike ride – boost all gone!

Then summer hols, a fabulous road trip, loads of opportunity to train, a chance meeting with a 3 time Tour de France winner and the Alpe D’huez Triathlon.  Now that really was a lesson in suffering.  If I were to do that race again, I would need a gastric band!  The only way up the alpe in 32 degrees, without feeling like dying, is to have the body fat of Kate Moss!

Did I mention I met Chris Froome?! img_2123

Home, more down, way more down, almost out.  Nearly pulled out of the race.  Nearly threw my bike in the bin. Cried on poor Craig in the middle of Pembrokeshire.  Cried a LOT more.  Cried on more people.  Since I started doing these stupid things in 2010, I have never been lower, never been more lacking in confidence or self belief.  Cried on Mark in the pouring rain.  You get the gist – there was crying, an awful lot of crying!

Time to rally. 4 weeks to go, suck it up, train hard and give it all you’ve got.  There was no way in hell I was putting myself through a year like this again so I had to make it work.  I knew if I pulled out, I would enter again and go for 2017.

Mini camp to Pembrokeshire with a lot of coachly hand-holding for my delicate mental state and I was as ready as I was ever going to be.

A calm descended.  The cut off for an Ironman is 17 hours so I decided as long as I made 16.59.59 that would do me fine.  I secretly hoped to manage something starting with a 15 but thought that was pretty wishful thinking!

If you see my IMW post (or this one) from last year, you’ll know this is where Cr@p Tri come into our own.  It is THE race of the year for us, the pink army of support is unrivalled.  They would get me through, I was sure of it!

Race morning – more tears! National anthem on the start line – more tears.  Then we were off.  The sea was kind, the sea creatures stayed away and my best estimate of 1hr40 for my swim was smashed with a 1.17!  It set the tone for the day!

Bike time.  I was happy as larry by now and raring to go.  My legs felt utterly invincible, I can’t describe it.  Nothing hurt, even the 2nd time up Wiseman’s Bridge and Heart Break Hill.  The feeling coming up that climb in Saundersfoot was like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  I felt like a Tour de France winner  (did I mention I met Chris Froome?) and it was worth entering the race for that alone!

(photo credit Huw Fairclough)

Into T2, bike leg smashed by 42 minutes over my best estimate and time to run.  I knew by now that I would finish, I knew I would be an ironman.  Running in pain and after a really long time is what I do, sadly its what I’m best at.  How I long to be fast but I wasn’t born that way.  I can just keep going for a really really long time, that is my talent and so that is what I do!

I LOVED the run, despite the fact that my stomach was in a world of hurt and I couldn’t eat, I really loved it.  Maybe not so much that 3rd time up the bloody hill but every other minute of it was amazeballs.  The support is something else.  Everyone that came, cheered, made a sign, sang, played music or banged a saucepan lid, I thank you.  Take a bow because without you guys there would have been worlds of hurt out there.

I suddenly realised that a finishing time starting with a 13 was a distinct possibility.  I would have to shift it but a possibility none the less.  I didn’t realise how much time I had to spare and crossed the line in 13.42.  A good 90 mins faster than in my wildest dreams!img_2788

Broken, battered but over the moon.  Hands down the best race I have ever done.  Hands down the one I least believed I could do, and hands down the one that is laid to rest and never needs to be entered again!

Thank you to everyone that helped me, my boys, my coach, my fantastically brilliant friends, Cr@p Tri and every random stranger that called my name and willed me on.

Time for a rest now, time to chill, think about what I want to do next.  Not time to enter some random challenge, after a glass of vino, that I hate training for and makes me grumpy for months on end.  Time to find my mojo again.

Lastly: If this ex chain-smoking couch potato can do Ironman Wales, anyone can so what are you waiting for?

Keep Trucking

V 🙂

 

I’m a triathlete again! Time to act like it.

9 Jan

Long long long ago, I ran a race.  It was hot and sandy, did I mention?

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Then nothing.  I set about carrying on, turning my attention to the next tick box on the list.  I didn’t write about it, what was the point?  A 70.3 is nothing extraordinary, everyone does one of those.  Also my self confidence took the biggest hit it has for years, no-one wants a pity party so we’ll move on.

2015 delivered a funny old summer and not just because of the crappy Welsh weather!  So much happened in the 12 weeks after I returned from the desert and yet I spent most of it feeling like I was getting nowhere fast.

Settling into life again after such a big adventure is really hard, you feel a bit pointless. All that focus, planning and preparation then whoosh, race week goes by in the blink of an eye and you’re left with a surreal disbelief, like it never really happened.  You’re also shattered, eating for Britain (not good for a triathlete) and low in motivational stores.

So obviously the thing to do is book 4 races in 4 weeks.  Clearly that’ll be just the tonic you need!

Mark set about turning my “big diesel engine”  (his words not mine, I would rather be something a tad more glamorous) into an Iron Pixie Extraordinaire.  The “Iron pixie” is what I chase.  A fit looking yet teeny tiny body that’s strong as hell.  Sadly my frame will never allow iron pixie proportions but a girl can dream.

Tri season opened with Mumble sprint – the always brilliant, Activity Wales team put on races that make you feel at home.  A lacklustre performance, I felt like s**t the whole way round made only a little brighter by the MC addressing me as “Queen of the desert” every time I saw him – thanks Mikey, I’ll pay you later 😉

In between: a reasonable time at the VelothonIMG_0169  and an ok placing at the Cardiff Tri ( where I even made the tele-box)!IMG_8703

But still my confidence was down.  I felt weak on the bike and my swim was – well – my swim!  The biggest thing to come out of MdS is a new found confidence that I can run whatever kind of pain I’m in so I wasn’t that concerned about running.

The entirety of Cr@p Tri decamped for Long Course Weekend.  One of my favourite weekends of the year -EVER – period!

I went into the weekend secretly 90% sure that Ironman Wales was the challenge calling me for 2016.  I came out of that swim 99% sure I would never or could never do it. There were jellyfish – when I say “there were jellyfish”, I mean I was swimming through a tapioca consistency sea scooping, what feels like dead flesh, out of the way every other stroke.  I was the closest I’ve ever come to getting on the kayak and throwing in the towel. I knew if I did, I’d never get back in again so I forced myself to complete the 1.9k.  There was swearing, there was crying, there was swimming with my eyes closed (doesn’t help) and cramp.  It was bloody terrible!

Wake up, new day.  Bike day!  I had been put in a different wave to all my friends, which at first was a real disappointment but I decided it was an opportunity to really see where I was on the bike. Racing on my own, for myself.  I smashed my self, every single minute I pushed and pushed.  I still didn’t feel strong so I didn’t even bother checking my result until much later. Not bad though hey? Maybe just maybe the plan is working!IMG_7856Then karaoke, partying until dawn and time to relax. Maybe I’d be ready for Zell 70.3 after all!

Everything in 2015 was about going sub 6hrs in Zell.  I’d taken it easy in the desert for Zell.  I’d trained like a demon under the cloud of an 8 minute 2014 disappointment for Zell.  To top it all a load of my besties were coming out to race Zell after we’d raved about it so much.  I felt not inconsiderable pressure for everyone to have a great holiday and also to perform for myself.

IMG_8443

Needn’t have worried on the 1st score, Zell is amazing. Really it is – go there. Race there, holiday there and fall in love with it like we have. The show they put on with the Kids racing on the friday

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Our race on the Saturday and the World champs on the Sunday was absolutely exceptional.

Race day dawned, my confidence was still iffy.  I remember the mandatory hug/neoprene butt slapping with my tree nemesis (you know who you are) saying “I don’t want to do this”!  I wore a total race time stopwatch this year so I could track my overall goal – came out of the swim 2 mins up (actually not but I thought I was up so thats all that mattered). Bike – felt good, lots of people were passing me but I managed not to rise to the challenge and stayed within my race plan.  Got off the bike at 3hrs 55mins. I knew then I had a sub 6 in me.  I can bang out a 2.05 half marathon even in dire straits so now it was how far under can I go?!  It was hot, seriously hot, but no dramas, hot is my thing now isn’t it?!

Plan to run 8.20min miles.  Stick to the plan and push at 9 miles if you have anything in the tank.  Bang! Boom! 5.49 on the finish line.  I’ll take them onions.  Seems I’m a triathlete again.

Season ends with the ever inspirational, support crew duties at Ironman Wales, I was still pretty convinced I wasn’t ever going to do it and race day didn’t convince me otherwise.  It looks like hell on earth! This race though is where Cr@p Tri comes into its own.  No one and I mean no one does this race justice like we do! It is simply brilliant.

Home again and now what?

“You need to enter Wales, its the only thing that scares you” he said.  £400 later here you find me, entered, about to embark on my training. I’m  fatter and more unfit than I’ve been in 6 years.  I have fallen off the wagon spectacularly since Zell and can barely run 7 miles at the moment but here we go again.

Tomorrow is the 6 year anniversary of giving up my 30 a day fag habit and deciding to take a hold of myself. Seems as good a day as any to recommit myself to my biggest challenge to date.  Seems my stupid psyche can’t live with the answer to “Have you done an Ironman?” being “only a half”!

Watch this space

Keep trucking

V 🙂

Marathon des Sables – top tips (sort of)!!

27 Apr

There’s so much mystery and (forgive me) b******t spouted about MdS that I thought I’d share a few top tips/ do and don’ts if you will.  Be aware dear reader some of these may be a tad “tongue in cheek”! Do’s

  • Make a decision to finish the race and commit
  • Train a bit – doesn’t have to be mental amounts, depends on your goals.  My 2015 “A” race was always 70.3 Zell am See, so my goal was not to come home too broken.  I targeted “middle of the pack” finishing. My longest run in training was only 18 miles but I did run up a gazillion hills, 5 days in a row for weeks on end.  I can’t take the credit – the plan was divised by my super coach http://www.whittlefit.com, I bitched and moaned on countless occasions that it wasn’t enough! It was, I finished middle of the pack – almost to the exact position!
  • Look at blogs of those who’ve done it – but don’t panic if you fancy doing it a little differently.  Blogs I really liked are: https://runningdutchie.wordpress.com  http://saltwatercureseverything.com   http://expeditionconsultancy.com/wp/2013/08/bravedave-ultrarunning-blog-marathon-des-sables-mds/  I also really liked http://www.amazon.co.uk/Running-Highway-Hell-Sultan-Marathon-ebook/dp/B00F8K4JDQ it’s only £2 and has loads of useful info
  • Buy a good rucksack, try it on – know that it fits you.
  • Go and visit an ultra running shop with a lot of experience and a good reputation.  I have used both http://www.likeys.com and http://www.myracekit.com. Likeys is near me so I could visit in person which was super helpful but both offer fantastic online service and both are more than willing to spend as long as it takes in person/on the phone to get you sorted.
  • Plan your food – again so many conflicting opinions out there.  I couldn’t be figged with the effort of figuring all this out and calorie planning etc so I took the easy way out – 3 emails to the lovely Rin and boom – food sorted.  Some of the best money I spent on MdS!! http://www.pndconsulting.co.uk
  • Make your own decisions.  Once you make kit/training/food decisions etc you have to live with them in the desert.  If those decisions are made by someone else, you will have reason to doubt them.  Make your own choices, with the best advice available, because its you that has to put up with them for 7 pretty uncomfortable days.
  • Get everyone to email you – the arrival of the post each night is like an emotional scene from “I’m a celeb, get me out of here” – you don’t want to be left out
  • Believe in yourself!

IMG_7209 Don’ts

  • Don’t stress the small stuff!  There are countless people out there (myself included) who are more than willing to wax lyrical on all manner of subjects. Kit, training, how they’ve done 8 hours of constant hill reps, with 20kgs on their back, for 30 consecutive days.  Here’s the skinny – its all bull***t!  What works for one person, doesn’t for another.  You only have to care about what works for you!
  • Beware the “teachers” – most ultra-running folk are super open, helpful, encouraging types.  There is brilliant support and advice out there, though for this race its a little harder to find without spending yet more money – beware those that make you feel you’ll fail unless you do MdS “their way”!  There are plenty of ways to succeed at MdS and personally I didn’t need that kind of crap spoiling the experience!
  • Don’t get freaked by the forums – this is easier said than done but trust me on this one piece of advice if none other!  I found twitter to be a much more balanced source of info and in particular tweeters @susie_chan @RunningDutchie @SingletonWayne and @ashleycharlwood are more than willing to chat about the race.
  • Feet – don’t do something weird!  “Do what works for you”!  That was the most useless piece of advice I received time and time again in the build up to MdS. Everything works for me!  I have never lost a toenail, I don’t suffer with blisters so why on earth would I start doing something completely random to my feet to prepare them?!  Some people tape to prevent blisters, some only once they get them.  Some people toughen their feet with all manner of concoctions, some soften them with moisturiser!  How the hell are you supposed to know?!  I read this website thoroughly http://www.fixingyourfeet.com then made a decision (see above)!  For what its worth I saw a podiatrist 4 weeks pre-race to make sure I had no problems, used a urea based moisturiser for the next 4 weeks then cut my nails as short as possible the day I left and filed the edges downwards a little so they weren’t easy to lift up (if that makes sense).  I covered my feet and between toes in glide every day then wore injinji base liners with a normal running sock over. I did reactively tape in a couple of spots that got a little hot but only had 1 very small blister all week.  These are my tootsies on the day we finished!  IMG_7080
  • Daps (that’s what we welsh call trainers) – there is no one dap that “finishes” MdS.  That is a load of bunkum!  I saw all manner of footwear succeed including sandal/flip flop type things and crocs!  Train in your daps, be happy with them and they will be fine.  As an aside I would mention that one chap in our tent wore off road Newtons and they literally fell to bits! He ended up like this: 11136644_10205609057818439_7461059899664789017_n                                                                                              but note the medal – he still finished!  MdS is all mind over matter!
  • Same applies for running kit – whatever you’re comfy in.  One thing that worked really well for me was my Rapha UV cycling arm warmers – I didn’t have to put cream on my arms, didn’t get chaffing from the rucksack on bare skin and they were lovely and cool when I wet them at each aid station.
  • Don’t worry about navigation – I was concerned about this before I left. Don’t be – the markings are clear and regular but what makes it easier is the line of runners stretching ahead of you, as far as the eye can see!  You would have to be a complete muppet to get lost, even at night you’d have to try pretty hard!!
  • Don’t run out of loo roll – plan this!  On the last day there were unconfirmed rumours I had to wipe my bum with socks!  Unconfirmed you understand!
  • Don’t run out of hand gel – see above!  The last thing you need is only 1 spare pair of socks and diarrhoea!!
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself – I couldn’t believe how much walking I was having to do.  Its ok, look around, unless you’re at the pointy end of the race, everyone is walking.  Accept it!
  • For the love of all that is good in the world – refrain from cutting down your toothbrush!  I cut mine down and it pissed me off twice a day, every single day!  Your mouth feels like the worst, hungover version of itself, at all times and an inability to clean your molars without inserting you whole hand into your mouth was infuriating.  Perhaps that’s the dentist in me talking but the annoyance was NOT worth saving 10g for!!

Don’t forget to enjoy it – this is a bucket list challenge.  I will be boring the pants off people in my retirement home because this race was my “glory days” in the making!  Make a decision to enjoy it and follow through!! That’s all I have for you folks and please remember, I am no expert.  I am a middle aged dentist, quite probably having a mid life crisis who decided to go to the sahara. But you know what else I am?  I’m an MdS finisher and I’ll take them onions! 10955147_10153163618236265_9135775899243866192_o IMG_7068 Feel free to disregard all and any of my tips.  Feel free to ask me for more info or more details about what I used and why.  But most of all please feel like you CAN do MdS.  In the last 5 years I have gone from a 30 a day smoker to finishing the 30th edition of the Marathon des Sables.  If I can do it, anyone can! 11149645_10153163622526265_8909177379965897901_o 10925845_10153163621161265_6288729090501203251_o Keep trucking V 🙂

Marathon Des Sables 2015

14 Apr

Good Friday, the day had arrived.  Arrangements were in place, packing was done. Just needed a bit of lunch and to chuck on some clothes, then we’re good to go, right?? WRONG!!!

Hmmm what’s that metal rod sticking out of my backpack?  Hmmm why won’t it go back where it came from?  Emergency call to Likeys, Evan gives an excellent tutorial on how to put it back in, so why the hell is it still sticking out?  Fabulous, just fabulous, my bloody backpack is broken. Cue mucho swearing, hot, angry, tears and emergency calls to all camping shops in Cardiff to see if they stock the same bag – guess what?  They don’t!

To cut a long story short I had to risk going to the biggest race of my life with a backpack held together with freaking gaffer tape!  Not the start I had hoped for.  Not the start, I imagine, Angharad envisaged either as I was still eating lunch in my underwear when we were supposed to be leaving for the airport!

There are many arduous bits of MdS but the unanticipated 2 hour wait on a coach, followed by a 6 hour vomit inducing journey (in said coach), with a baptism of fire in the the world of al fresco toileting was a good way to soften us up for the race.  This was followed by a demolition derby style dash, to obtain a tent, in the pitch black, carrying all our luggage! Tent obtained, tent mates gathered we were a merry band, with a pitiful black canvass over a few dodgy sticks to call our very own.  Needless to say we got on with some immediate exterior design additions!IMG_6991

Now here’s the secret to MdS success – get yourself 7 bloody amazing tent mates!  In this we excelled ourselves.  4 West Welshies, a lovely half welsh lady (we adopted her as a full blood) and her equally lovely fiance, who’s only failing was not being welsh too (only kidding Mark)!  We laughed from the moment we met until the moment we parted at Gatwick, post our epic, emotional adventure.  I’m quite sure Angharad and I have made 6 new friends for life. IMG_6994

Day 1 arrived and by now the enormity of the race had become an insurmountable beast in my head.  As I fought back tears on the start line, utterly terrified by what I was about to undertake, the atmosphere built to a head that culminated with the chorus of ACDC’s Highway to hell, the whoosh of the low flying camera chopper and the pop of the start pistol.  IMG_7006

Right then, we’re off, best man up Woodsford because like it or not, this is happening!  I watched Angharad shoot off, electing to chill and walk.  I needed day 1 to pass easily, let myself relax into the race and get my head round the task ahead of me.  The day would see me relax a lot, pass the legendary Sir Rannulph Fiennes and eventually catch up with Angharad as she was waylaid by a Donkey – you’ll have to ask her about that one!

Stage done – damage assessed – no blisters on the feet but really sore prickly heat around the cuffs of my calf guards that had given me the most unattractive cankles! Little did i realise the cankles would be my nemesis of the next few days and result in me taking a scissors to my calf guards and cutting them off halfway up a jebel!

Day 2 – epic amounts of climbing including a 25% slope with hands and knees scrambling action – loved it.  I found the long flats where you could see miles of runners, bobbing away, in front of you, interminably dull and as such was quite often bored at the MdS. Bored? How dare she? Is she mad?  But there’s a secret they don’t tell you about ultra running – it can be damn boring and the fight is not to stop, never give in.  Sometimes that means fighting pain, both physical and mental.  Sometimes that means fighting boredom!IMG_7023

Day 3 – time to have a little go at this race!  Flogged myself, absolutely emptied the tank to the point I was sobbing uncontrollably after crossing the finish line and had to be scooped up in a cwtch by a complete stranger!

Day 4 – 91.7km (57 odd miles) loomed large and the nerves were palpable!  The mood broken by a French man standing (starkers) outside his tent and announcing to the whole camp “This is the day we break”!!  Breakfast routine done, backpacks loaded and locked, here we go!IMG_7026

You have to have little treats ready for days like this, anything it takes to keep you going. I had clean pants, clean socks, a sachet of Nutella and some mini eggs to name a few!IMG_7016

The first 50km passed pretty easily, Angharad and I were sticking together and stopped to eat some dinner at the checkpoint.  Mmmm warm tuna sachets – minging, but did the job and no need to get out a stove/boil water etc.  I can’t imagine what would have happened to us, had we not stopped when we did as post 50km was where the stage actually started.  17 miles of solid sand dunes began, the sun went down, leaving us in pitch black so the end of any section/summit of each dune were invisible at all times.

Checkpoint 5 was a treat that almost lulled us into a big mistake.  It was done out like an alpine apres ski bar!  A neon lit perspex bar serving hot tea, deckchairs and a live lounge band – I kid you not!  The mistake would have been to stop.  It was so inviting there, so easy to slip into a sleeping bag, listen to the music and have a little snooze!

Push on – on and on and on and on!  I have never been so low in a race, never had to dig so deep to keep moving and still have no clue how I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  The ever present comfort of having Angharad with me made the sight of scuttling scorpions, the first sight of a dreaded camel spider and the weight of the all encompassing darkness more bearable.  Somehow despite stumbling around like drunks, my epic outburst of sweary rage, both of us hallucinating and the most soul destroying finishing strait in history – we made it!  22 hours on our feet.  How?  I’ll never know!  It was sheer hell and we only made it through with grit and determination.  It was 100% a mental battle, not physical.

Rest day – not restful! The MdS is a master class in sleep deprivation

Last day – the marathon.  Right, I’m going to have a bash at this, I’m leaving nothing out there, I’m going all in!  The plan was working, the legs were obeying and the mind was on board, until the freaking gaffer tape (remember the stupid bag) repair gave way 3 miles in. More swearing!  Much much more swearing!  Thankfully Dai had made me take some cable ties with me so 4 ties later I was back on my merry way.  Sadly I now needed to support the bottom of my bag, so I was basically running a marathon with 1 hand behind my back! Even so the stage passed pretty well, I had climbed the rankings some and was a Marathon des Sables finisher – the proud owner of the hardest won medal I’ve ever received and disappointingly the worst finishers t-shirt in history! IMG_7068

The final “Solidarity” stage is a frankly a pain in the butt.  No one wants to do it and it isn’t timed, but if you don’t drag your sorry, broken body round 10km of yet more sand dunes they DNF you from the whole shebang.  So tent day it was, we walked as an 8, chatting, snacking and tempting poor SteveO, with his skinless feet and gandalf style staff round with all the remaining pepperamis we could muster.  He was in a world of pain, as was Katie yet they both found the strength to finish with a smile.  Steve will however be forever known as “Gandalf” to me!IMG_7046

Over the week we had become a team and to end the adventure crossing the line all together was a special moment for me. It was what I’d come for – the experience, the camaraderie and the triumph over the obstacles first – the “racing” second.  I’ve never approached an event where I don’t feel any pressure to “compete” before, I was happy to complete knowing I had tried my best, regardless of the result. IMG_7053 IMG_7050

Back to the hotel, there was sunbathing, beers, some more beers and the odd Dai-query (don’t ask). Now we’re home.  I’m blister free, injury free and well.  Already the pain is fading through the rose tinted glasses of hindsight and only the good memories are sticking.

I suffered badly with homesickness this trip, which made me a bit weepy when all the fabulous emails from home arrived each night.  I never have before and was away much longer when I went to Nepal, so I was trying to figure out why.  I’m a pretty driven, type A, control freak, person and I can’t sit still for long before I feel the need to stretch myself again, but what I realised on this trip was I have a family who love me, brilliant supportive friends, a happy home and 2 ridiculous dogs, so I’m going to stop driving for a little while because its occurred to me, I’m already here!!

I haven’t included kit lists/top tips etc in this post because frankly I’m no expert, but if you want to know what worked for me and some of the mystery shrouded secrets please get in touch, I’m very happy to help.IMG_7061

Keep trucking

V 🙂

Trickiest transition yet

3 Dec

I’ve been a bit quiet of late, you may have thought dear reader?  The pessimist inside (I work hard to suppress) convinces me my random musings won’t have been missed but I enjoy the catharsis of spouting my thoughts your way, so bear with me if you will?

We last met just after Ironman Wales from which I thought I’d share this awesome video done by fellow Cr@p Tri member Dave Loveless.  I came over all unnecessary and emotional reliving the day! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RkipjnwpxwA

Since then, my how things have changed!  Firstly I set off to do the Valleys Velo Epic sportive.  Widely regarded as being “nails” I was fairly apprehensive.  Armed with my trusty domestiques of Dai and our friend Christophe, the plan was to make me “the winning-est and fastest girl I could possibly be”.  A great cr@p turnout made the start a fun affair as we rolled out in one huge pink peloton (and Christophe in black, but we forgive him because he’s cr@p now!). 8dcdd63c18ec6a047013354073dbb09b_gallery

The route takes in all the iconic climbs in this fabulous part of the world.  The Rhigos, the Bwlch, Penrhys, Graig Wen and Maerdy!  Nevermind all the smaller unnamed beasties in between those.  The profile looks a lot like this: Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 17.18.03

and lives up to its “Epic” billing!

We went off the front of the pink on the Rhigos and settled in for some hard graft. Up, down, up, down the route is relentless.  Beautiful but relentless!  I am rarely happier than I am on a bike but this route pushed me to the point of having a little strop.  It was a “little strop” thanks to Chris’ presence, had it just been me and Dai, I think it might have been a full-blown domestic.  Despite falling foul of the nasty, tack laying saboteurs – who the hell has the free time to paint tacks black before laying them down to maximise the amount of cyclists they hit and do these idiots realise they could kill someone?  – we were tanking along.  The boys worked so hard pushing me to my limits especially on the flats and eventually leading me to 2nd woman overall.  Very happy with that result almost a year exactly since I first rode a bike on the road!  42e24db767bd741312659292523ed837_gallery e71a6e5acd858cf1c3ab47c8b864d8ba_gallery

Thank you Bicycle Doctor for organising a fantastic sportive, with super friendly marshals and even awesome weather.  I will surely be back next year chasing a sub 4hr ride.  Special mention has to go to The Brothers Cr@p who lived up to our club name by finishing in truly Cr@p style!  Deffo the pic of the season e3152fe426c9959e4e14f8f2df687c20_gallery

It’s very important to know when your season is over and take the rest you need.  Here I have failed in spectacular fashion.  I am  rubbish at following sensible advice and prone to “knowing better”.  So naturally I would follow this epic ride with another epic ride 3 days later and would surely be in PB form for the Cardiff Half Marathon 3 days after that.  Right? Wrong!  So very very wrong.  Long one of my favourite races, Cardiff Half, looms as a highlight on my race calendar.  Imagine then, if you will, my desolation when 4 miles in someone turned off the power.  It was literally as if someone flipped a switch and my legs went into standby mode.  I very nearly grabbed a cab from Cardiff Bay but lack of money, phone and an inability to admit when something is beyond me meant I couldn’t live with a DNF by my name.  To date I have never DNF’d a race and I’d like to keep it that way.

I hobbled round in a respectable but disappointing 1.45 and the pics thankfully don’t show the mess I was in by the time I hit Roath Lake!10698447_10152458411733196_2916936423594881448_n 10646749_10152458411613196_1924338878762360656_n

In reality Cardiff Half has been much more damaging than I realised.  Here I am gearing up (quite literally buying yet more gear) to run 157 miles in 6 days across the Sahara Desert in 40 degree heat and I’m broken, lacking in motivation and utterly disinterested in training.  I’m terrified of losing the bike and swim skills I’ve worked so hard, from nought, to master and yet I’m hurtling towards the toughest challenge I have ever dared enter.

I’ve been a little disheartened by the forums, highly opinionated “my way or the highway” info/mystique surrounding the Marathon Des Sables.  It feels like a lot of folk are only willing to help or give advice in return for your hard-earned cash which seems, at times, distasteful and not in the spirit of adventure racing.

Fear not, today you find me down but not out!  I am a stereotypical girl and in true Sex and the city fashion, a new pair of daps has renewed my interest in training.  I rather enjoyed my hill reps this morning and am finding a love of off-road running I barely dared to hope I had.

I’ve also found some super helpful folk who have been there, done that and want to help you get the t-shirt!  I can highly recommend Likeys in Brecon for kit advice.  I felt that I could stay there all day, asking a million questions and if I left without buying anything they still would have welcomed me back another time.  I did however leave with new daps, my backpack and an excessively tight, barbie pink, compression shirt that given my current shape looks more Vicky Pollard than Vicky Beckham!

So train I will, after 4 years of entering yet never racing I will run the Merthyr Mawr pudding race and hit the sand dunes! I will at all times try to keep this “Que sera” attitude I’m currently enjoying and let the excitement slowly build.

Mark is, as ever, in control of the plan.  I’m not looking at a what anyone else is doing anymore.  What’s the point?  I’m not someone who can run 30 miles a day for months on end.  I will get injured and more importantly bored S***less!  I would rather be 10% under trained arriving at the door of this endeavour than 1% over trained.

Mark knows my body, my abilities and my ambitions for MdS and I trust him to deliver me to the start strong, fit and ready. Maybe I’ll update you on the way but can we all please ask Santa for this optimism to remain with me?

Happy Christmas trucking

V 🙂

An Ironwife’s Ironman Wales

2 Oct

I was asked to guest blog for http://pedalcover.co.uk and this is what I came up with!  Cheers Darren for inviting me to write on your site, made me feel like a proper blogger!!

There’s something special about Ironman Wales. I’ve been to many an Mdot event, a Challenge or 2 and non-franchise iron distance events like The Outlaw. Whilst they all have their merits, there’s no denying Ironman Wales has a certain “Je ne sais quoi”!

Being semi-iron myself (needed to drop that one in) I felt far more part of the whole weekend this time around, though I resisted entering the chopper “finishers shirt one-upmanship” competition. There weren’t many Everest Marathon finishers t-shirts about so frankly I won anyway (sorry – had to drop that one in too – iron-inferiority complex – all about the ironmen now, I promise)!

Driving down on Friday afternoon, the bike porn on the M4 setting the tone for the weekend and getting us both in the “race face” mindset. Why on earth does she need her game face on I hear you ask?! Iron spectating/supporting is a skill in itself. It requires the stamina of an ox, the planning skills of a battalion commander and the 3 pit stops to charge your iphone!

On arrival we dumped our stuff and headed down to the beach for a recce swim. I joined in with this despite my reservations about the dinner plate sized jellyfish pics that had been doing the rounds on twitter. What a beautiful evening. The sea was rolling, fairly warm and thankfully stinger free!
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Saturday it all kicks off. The ironmen and women register in their droves and head down to the enormous transition to rack bikes and hang up kit bags. There’s not an awful lot an ironwife can help with at this point and experience has taught me to keep a low profile when the stress levels ascend. So leaving the 4 competitors in our cottage with re-heating instructions for the lunch I’d made, I spent a most enjoyable Saturday cycling part of the bike route and spending the afternoon in the pub! Dai (my ironman) has raced Wales before and I know how hard it is. I’ve cycled the route before and have died a pedally death on those relentless hills but Saturday’s ride brought home to me just how tough a course this really is.

Race morning – alarm call at 5am. Ironmen (and women) off to transition for last minute tinkering then back to the house for essential coffee, pit stops and wetsuit wrestling. Having so many friends racing makes the race morning ambience electric but in a fun, banter kind of a way. So much more relaxed than when you’re pulling on the neoprene alone. They were ready to be iron, they were off!

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Down to the swim start. Atmosphere indescribable! The voice of Ironman, Paul Kaye, building the anticipation and excitement amongst crowd and competitors alike. I came over all unnecessary and emotional as the klaxon sounded!

IMG_50351798155_10152437268593196_2017851130530560507_n10686700_10152418797138196_7067408225588486855_n (pics courtesy of B.Loveless-Lloyd)
You can’t see an awful lot in the swim. Everyone looks the same in their wetsuits, although Dai is notable for his Grizzly Adams beard, so after enjoying the spectacle for a few minutes it was time to hot foot it across Tenby, put the kettle on and take a cuppa to T1. Cottage position is all-important for this race! We were able to loiter a mere 5m from our front door!

Into T1 – out again, onto the bike. His strength, so I can relax a bit. There’s a 6-hour hiatus at this point where all you can do is keep your fingers crossed and keep refreshing the screen on the iphone tracker – then recharge its unbelievably crappy battery! So after watching all the other 13 friends we had racing safely on to the bike it was time for a bit of socialising, brekkie and warming up!
photo(pic courtesy of Rhondda Tri)IMG_5046IMG_5117(Pic thanks to F.Whittle)

A fab hour spent seeing them all crack through Tenby on the way out for the 2nd bike loop and like groundhog day, it was back to T2 for bike in, run out. That’s when all the fun begins as an Ironwife and by fun I mean the enormous stress and sweating!
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Coming out of T2 Dai was all smiles and whilst he went out and back to who knows where, I took my opportunity to set up my run position at Cr@p Towers. For those of you that haven’t heard of the triathlon club sensation sweeping South Wales, Dai and I are proud members of the most fun Tri club there ever was. Cr@p tri is where its at for fun and camaraderie in your racing.
The support on Cr@p corner was sensational, the guys had painted Tenby pink (much to the dismay of the locals), we were cheering and ringing cowbells like Netherlanders on the Dutch Corner of Alpe d’Huez!

“He looks really strong” one of the cr@ppers remarked. “Do you think so?” I answered “oh good”. Unfortunately I suspected something was up. I’ve been watching Dai run for many moons now and I could see he didn’t look comfortable. He has a nasty habit of smashing the first half of an Ironman marathon and somewhat fading in the second, so I hoped at this point he was merely being tactical and sensible. That’s what I hoped, so very much. By lap 3 it became clear my suspicions were spot on. The wheels had come off. As I flippantly declared “We’re hitting Bognor Regis rather than the Big Island next year”, inside I was devastated for my Ironman. Dai is beyond dedicated to this sport. He trains hard, never coasts, never misses a session, never moans about tiredness or aching and so, in my (admittedly biased) mind he deserved a result that reflected his effort.

Ironman is a cruel mistress in that when something goes wrong it’s nigh on irretrievable and hours rack up before your very eyes. Nevertheless, finish he did, with a smile on his face, high fiving all the waiting hands along the finishing chute (except mine – we’ve had words). He was surprisingly philosophical about the whole thing, knows what went wrong (fuelling/nutrition) and has taken it as a valuable lesson. I doubt (I know) I wouldn’t have been so sensible in the face of the same situation! Still, he’s not beaten, next year is already booked and paid for! Roll on Tenby 2015!
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Keep Trucking
V 🙂