Thursday, May 19, 2011

Taunton Deane Triathlon - an idiot's guide

Having raced at such far-flung places as Banbury, London and Ponterwd (see previous blog), the Westgates decided to stay closer to home this weekend. Only one of us was racing but this time from choice. I (Lesley) had decided to have a go at the Taunton Deane Triathlon.

I had long been amazed by athletes who could do this event, and even more awe-struck by Phil’s achievements at the Ironman in Sherborne. But I never thought I’d actually become one of the competitors. However after a couple of sessions in the pool I timed 16 lengths and found it was a reasonable time, so a visit to the bike shop followed and the purchase of a bike. Now I didn’t mention my ambitions to the salesman so brought home a nice ladies hybrid with straight handlebars and a shopping rack. Then followed a traumatic few weeks while I tried to master the gears. Having not cycled for 40years, and then on a bike without gears this was a challenge, not made any easier by the gear-changer not working properly. After that was replaced I timed a couple of rides, and with some trepidation sent off my application. The event opens (and sells out) on the 2nd January so I had a few months to do some training. However I soon found out that without unlimited time, marathon and triathlon training are not really compatible, so had to take a chance on London with just one long run.

After another distraction in the Welsh hills the big day finally arrived. To say I was nervous would be the understatement of the year. Following a sleepless night I was up early and packed, with every combination of race clothes I could think of. We loaded the bike into the car and arrived in plenty of time to register and get my arm marked with my number. Now I really felt like one of the triathletes I’d seen so many times on TV. After a few more tips on how to fix the numbers to the race belt (stapler and pins) I was allowed into the transition area and carefully laid out everything on my towel in order. Anyone who knows me knows this includes the obligatory hat, hankie and drinks bottle. During more nervous wandering round I met Jonathon Gilling, known from past years doing the Somerset Series. I also carefully studied the route from pool to bike – apparently it’s easy to forget where it is among 100s of others – but a towel draped over the handlebars helps.

And then it was time to line up outside the pool and wait for my number to be called. I’d asked for a lane with steps, which I got, chose a hat and got in the water. Before I knew it, it was 3,2,1, GO. I took it fairly steadily as it’s easy to try too hard and swallow/inhale lots of water, but even so on the 3rd length I was really happy to overtake another competitor. (OK I forgot the foot-touching business) but with only 3 to a lane there was plenty of room. At 14 lengths a “2 lengths to go” paddle appeared and after that I hauled myself out, retrieved glasses and tried to look like I was running as I came out onto the tarmac of the car park. None of those nice blue mats here.

I hadn’t practised transitions, but had watched them so many times on TV I was hopeful I’d be OK. Another helpful tip: fold the towel so you can tweak it out and sit on it while putting on socks, shorts, shoes and drying self at the same time. Next the vest and helmet and race belt which in my haste I put on upside down and there it stayed for the rest of the race. I later found all this had taken less than 2 minutes!!!

So on to the bike, over the mats and leg 2 started. (Another thing that had induced me to enter this event was that the route passed through my village and started/finished in Wellington where I work, so all my training was on the same hills.) There were enough other competitors around to make it feel like a race although it was arranged like a handicap with the slower ones starting first. So I didn’t mind too much when several cyclists whizzed past. The route turns at Wivey roundabout and heads back to Wellington, a good moment as not only was there a long downhill ahead but I was now past halfway. Back through Milverton and as I struggled up a small hill standing on the pedals a bystander said I looked impressive. Everyone else seemed to manage it sitting down!!! Then up the steepest hill on the course counting revs instead of paces. Another few miles and the end of this leg was within sight. More cyclists shot past as I turned into the finish. Dismount in the box, sort of run to my place and rack the bike, grab running things and set off on leg 3.

This is a two lap course on roads, paths and an unmade track. My legs are really wobbly after the bike, but I tell myself it’s only 5K, grit my teeth and keep going. Some runners are finding it really hard and I’m able to pass at least five of them. Richard is at the start of the second lap with encouraging words. Legs are just about working by now and I pass another runner on the hill. Down the track again, turn right, over the bridge and there’s the finish. I’ve done it!!!

For the record this is my result:

Overall Position 248
Swim 00:11:10
Transition 1 00:01:59
Bike 00:59:54
Transition 2 00:00:49
Run 00:25:43
Total Time 01:39:33

There were 267 finishers – First in 1:01:49 Last in 1:55:39

Friday, May 06, 2011

Red Kite Challenge

Some people would do anything to get away from the Royal Wedding, even going as far as America. However the Westgates only went as far as Wales to take on the Red Kite Challenge. This is a 2 day event comprising an eleven mile race on Saturday and 18 miles on Sunday, both off-road. So we decided to have a short break and took the scenic route to an excellent B&B nearby:

On Saturday , after a full welsh breakfast and a visit to a hydro-electric power station, we made our way to the race HQ at the Red Kite Visitor Centre for the start of the race at 1pm. Descriptions of the course ranged from flat-ish to “a bit of a hill”, both totally inaccurate. There were quite a few hills and every time we emerged from the woods to cross yet another ridge the wind nearly swept us off our feet. If you can find the photos from the link on the off the shoulder vest shows the effect of the wind. Richard had decided not to run with me, as I am very slow on the downhills whereas he likes to fly down them. Also, knowing I had the race on Sunday, I was taking it fairly easy and walking up the steepest hills. Even so I was pleased when a marshal said there was about 2 miles to go. I had estimated it would take about 2 hours and my finish time was 2:06:09. Richard had finished comfortably ahead in 1:44:57. We had plenty of time afterwards for a late lunch and lots of stretching before assembling for the presentations. These were not only late starting but painfully slow. They were also quite generous with the prizes having three in each 5 year age category. Even so I was pleasantly surprised to find I was 3rd FV55 although some way behind the first and second. Richard was only 4th in his age group but was in luck as his name was called for a spot prize – a bottle of red wine. After that the only thing to do was get some food and sleep ready for the next day.

Sunday also dawned sunny, cool and windy. This time the start was at 11am and at a different venue – a caravan park at Devil’s Bridge. Any survivors from yesterday were proudly wearing their T shirts to distinguish themselves from those just doing Sunday’s race!! However the whole field still only numbered about 50 and I realised that it was soon going to get quite spread out. Richard was running his own race again, and I found myself running with four ladies from a club in Shropshire. I was feeling quite fit and well after yesterday’s efforts, but decided I’d rather have the company than push on by myself, for what could be a pretty lonely race. The course was flatter than yesterday’s, though still with some hills, and was mostly stony trails reminiscent of the Neolithic marathon. There was the minor excitement of a huge tree completely blocking the path, which we negotiated twice. Another loop took us past a wind farm, passing right underneath the massive whooshing machines. After more than enough stony trails we were on a narrow path more reminiscent of the “Seaview”, and then round a corner and into a field, and suddenly it was the finish. Richard was there having finished some 30 minutes before me. (2:55:13) The buttered fruit cake went down a treat, and after a last photo and goodbyes we went to wait for the presentations. As these were not only for this race but also combined times for both races we waited with some trepidation wondering whether it would finish before nightfall. I think most of the category winners eventually got the prize due to them, but there were still several items left on the table, so the invite went out: “Everyone who hasn’t had a prize, please come and take something” so we did!!!

Richard maintained the disrepute tradition by being rather obnoxious, even more than usual. After the second race one of my new friends from Newton Running club brought us over some excellent homemade cake. A bit later as Richard got out of our car she asked him if he was a bit stiff. He of course replied along the lines “would you like to re-phrase that”. Anyway he reckons he recovered the situation without offence and proceeded with a normal conversation – well normal for him.

Richard did these races having done no training for 3 weeks and hardly much all this year. He reckons the highlights were seeing red kites and wind turbines and hearing a cuckoo.

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Avenue of the Giants Marathon

May Day 2011. Our long-awaited scenic spring marathon finally arrived, without volcanos or BA strikes to stymie us this time. Having picked up numbers etc the day before, we made it to the race venue in the heart of the beautiful Humboldt Redwoods State Park over 90 minutes before the 8:00 start time.
Some nervous waiting, and a couple of trips to the Port-a-Potties later, and we were standing at the front of the crowd of maybe 600 listening to a spirited rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, then a short briefing, and countdown and we were off!
Down the road beside Bull Creek and within a minute we were running through stands of majestic Coast Redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens), most over 300 feet tall and 1000 years old. The day before we had admired them up close, but now we were concentrating on running and the trees were somehow less substantial, although still a unique and powerful presence. Our goal was to run each mile of the race in 6:50. On many training runs this winter and spring, that would have seemed like a tough pace, but on this day it felt absolutely effortless, at least for the first few miles of the race.
Lin's was happy to let me set the pace, despite two younger women starting off ahead of us, and opening up a lead of over a hundred yards. They were either really fast, or had gone off too fast, and it would do no good to race them at this stage.

The course consists of two out and back sections in the woods of a half-marathon each. Soon we had reached the first turn-around point and met the leader on his way back, followed by a few other men, then the first lady, possibly ahead of us by a minute at this stage. We had already passed the other woman and Lin was second place in the ladies race, and we were about 20th overall. We were exactly 5 seconds behind our target pace, which was very good, since we were now at the highest point on the course.

The return half of the first leg was slightly downhill, so we regained that 5 seconds, and without meaning or trying to, about another 45 seconds more so we were 40 seconds up on our schedule by the half-way mark which we reached in 1:28:50. Support from the other runners was great, many calling out "Go Maiden Newton" as we passed them. Then we were on the second half, and the second out-and-back, with runners coming in the opposite direction doing the Half-marathon and some finishing the 10k race. They also gave us great support, with calls of "well done, second lady" to Lin. We had caught up and were running with a guy from local Six Rivers Running Club who was a great help because his pace was really even, and he also called out ahead to the many walkers strewn across the course to make way for the marathon runners. A feature of American races seems to be that many walkers take part along with the runners, which is great, but it can make it a little tricky when you are overtaking walkers doing less than half your pace, and also walking 2, 3 , 4 or even 5 abreast!

But we carried on, still on schedule, though I sensed that Lin was getting tired now. The sight of the first lady up ahead spurred her on though, and we were definitely gaining on her. About the 18 mile mark we caught her up, and lurked behind her for a minute or so until a shout of "go-ladies" tipped her off, and we overtook - Lin trying to appear fresh and strong to provide maximum demoralisation effect on the opposition. We needn't have worried, though, because after a brief attempt to stay in touch the early leader soon fell back, and by the 19.5 mile turn-around point was over a 100 yards back and clearly struggling. Unfortunately, by now Lin was also finding it really hard, and we gradually fell off pace until with 5k to go needed to run a sub-20 minute 5k to finish under 3 hours. That was not going to happen, but we managed to hang on to a respectable 7:30 pace and reached the finish line to cheers from our friends Sherry and Rich in a new PB for Lin of 3:03:17.

The race had been designated the Road Runners Club of America Championship race for California so Lin was now the 2011 RRCA California State Champion! I got a nice medal engraved beer glass and bottle of Lost Coast Brewery beer for first in 55-59 age-group. A very satisfying result, but even without the awards, it would have been well worth doing. An outstandingly scenic race, with superb organisation, and a friendly atmosphere - what more could you ask?

Well maybe to finish in under 3 hours. We'll have to do that next time...

Lin said: What an awesome experience (I've only been in the US for 4 days and I'm already speaking American, awesome indeed!) the Avenue of Giants marathon was. Naturally I'm very disappointed not to have broken the 3 hour mark but a new marathon PB (my first post broken hip "proper" PB) and being Californian State Champion was a pretty good consolation prize. Mainly I'm just so grateful that Martin stayed with me from the 20 mile mark, when I really began to struggle, and patiently coaxed me every step of the way. He was still feeling strong and would undoubtedly have got under 3 hours if he had gone on without me so a big thank you to him.
So now we have to keep our fingers crossed that we get into Abingdon and do all that training again, but harder...........................................but first there's the small matter of a holiday to enjoy.