Saturday, October 08, 2011

Mablethorpe Marathon

Back in the spring, we looked for a fast, flat autumn marathon where Lin could achieve her ambition of running a sub-3 hour marathon. After failing to get into Abingdon (who knew that it would sell out in about half an hour?) we settled on Mablethorpe.

We started on our training plan which we stuck to pretty well for a change, apart from about 30 races over the summer (what summer?) which we managed to shoehorn into the schedule. No injuries and things were looking pretty good until the weathermen started bleating about the return of summer and record-breaking temperatures.

Thought it would never get here, but finally the big marathon weekend arrived, for some reason I had always thought Mablethorpe was not far past Abingdon. They are both up north somewhere. Turns out it’s twice as far away, about 6 hours driving! Anyway, we drove up to stay with some old friends for a couple of nights beforehand and they spoiled us with carbo-loading meals, and a day relaxing in their garden. Everything was done to maximise our chances, and so when we arrived on Sunday in Mablethorpe I still thought we had a hope as long as we could get the pacing right, and if maybe it was not quite as hot and breezy as forecast, at least not for the 3 hours from 10am till 1pm.

It even felt too cold as we waited in the shade before the start, but as soon as we moved out into the sun to line up on the front line, the reality became clear. It was hot! The Town Crier gave an entertaining and rousing pre-race speech, and then we were off, winding through the streets of M'thorpe. We were immediately overtaken by about 30 people - going off too fast - and we overtook most of them as the race progressed. I concentrated on maintaining an even 6:48/mile pace. To Lin it felt like we were just jogging, but she restrained herself as we reeled off mile after mile at or around target pace. After 4 miles we started to overtake half-marathoners who had started 20 minutes earlier. This was mostly not a problem as there were not enough of them to completely block the road so apart from a little congestion at one or two water stops it was fine. The most annoying part was that nearing the finish of the first lap, several well-meaning people including marshals who should have known better shouted out to us “well done, only a mile to go!” I wasted a bit of energy shouting back - "14 miles!!!!!"

By that time, any lingering morning coolness had burned off and it was really getting hot. I was now struggling to maintain the 6:48 pace, and my heart-rate was over 160 which is where it should have been after 23 miles, not 13. So just after 14 miles I made a tactical decision to let Lin run on without me, and away she went, soon she was well ahead, trailed by her female competition, a tough-looking woman from the Hampshire Police as we later found out. I plodded on, getting hotter and slower, until at 20 miles I handed in my number and waited at the out-and back section for Lin to return. I had cut out about a mile of the course, giving me just enough time to catch her up and recover enough energy to run with her for the last 4 miles. By my calculations she had to run the last 4 miles in just under 7 minutes per mile, and for most of the time I really thought she would do it, but the last section up to the beach path, and 2 miles along it in the mid-day sun proved just too much and the pace must have dropped off, or else the distance was more than my GPS measured, because when she rounded the last corner with 60 metres to go, the clock was just turning to 3 hours.

Despite the disappointment, she still did really well, beat all the women and all but 7 men, in a new personal best time of 3 hours and 19 seconds.

Only 20 seconds less and she would have accomplished her goal of sub 3 hours. As a consolation, she moved up a place in the UK age-group ranking to 3rd W45-49..

Oh well it gives us something to aim for at London next April. I'm hoping there is not another heat wave - maybe it will snow?

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Bideford Triathlon 2011

The entry form for the Bideford Triathlon apologised in advance for the late date of the event, due the necessity of having a high tide, and offset the possibility of cold weather with the promise that the water temperature would be higher. So no one expected a heat wave on the day. For those attempting a marathon PB, this was bad news indeed. However for those attempting their first open water swim it was positively good news.

Preparations for the event included the purchase of a wetsuit. For anyone who doesn’t know about these things, they take your measurements and weight and select one that should fit. Apparently I was a 1.5. The size 2 I saw in the shop looked far too small, so I didn’t think I had any chance of fitting into mine. However after several attempts (and phone calls to the shop) I had the thing zipped up and tried it out in a small pool. Yes, I could even do crawl in it.

Next followed the ideal preparation (a day before the race) for my previous triathlon at Langport: a trip to the beach at Sandy Bay near Exmouth. We’d been to Killerton Park Run earlier (Richard running, me on finish desk), and it had been a lovely sunny morning. So we parked, got wetsuit on and into the sea. Weather promptly changed to torrential rain, wind and huge waves. Richard was on the beach with mobile phone ready to summon the coastguard, but he could barely see me in the water. He said he wasn’t sure if my arm movements were swimming or waving for help!!! However I made it back to the shore with a strong dislike for salt water. (Langport went OK, an outdoor pool in more torrential rain was quite idyllic after the sea).

So, onto Bideford, a fairly relaxed registration, and only a slight potential problem of how to find my bike without glasses – solved by being able to leave my bike right near the swim exit. When we’d crossed the bridge we’d seen the exit ramp, high and dry above an expanse of mud, but by the time we started the tide was in and the end was submerged. Queuing up to start the 600m swim is one of the most scary things I’ve ever done, but being in the waves of slow swimmers I didn’t have to hang about too long, we were in the water and off. I did try crawl, but had to give up after getting salt water in my mouth. We went under the bridge – loads of spectators – out to a couple of buoys and turned for the return, back under the bridge, hearing Richard call out. I was swimming wide hoping to avoid the faster sharks, but a couple brushed past really close, another unpleasant experience. In fact I swam so wide I almost went past the exit ramp. Helpful hands then hauled the exhausted swimmers out of the water and into transition. I wasn’t worried about how long it took to get the wetsuit off, just glad I hadn’t drowned. So was quite pleased it was only 2:33 minutes altogether. Wearing the new trisuit also helped, (No vest and shorts to put on) although if it had been typical October weather I’d have been frozen.

The bike ride was pleasant by comparison, even though the first half was quite hilly, with the first one being close to the start when we’d barely got going. I’d decided on toe straps again, rather than risk the clip-in pedals/shoes and falling off as at Sherborne. I did get some encouragement from fellow cyclists as they zoomed past, especially as I struggled on the hills. Much easier when you know the course as I did at Wellington. After we reached halfway at the outskirts of Barnstaple we turned onto a much flatter B road. There were more cars but I began to make faster progress and even overtook a few other cyclists and before long the new bridge at Bideford was in sight and we came back to the transition area.

Grabbed hat, bottle and hankie and off on the run, trying not to bring the club into disrepute after a family of 4 couldn’t get out of my way before I barged into the back of them. (I did call out twice..........). On the bike it had felt pleasantly warm, but soon after starting running I began to feel the heat. However it didn’t bother me, and I soon started passing other runners who were flagging. There are two quite steep hills and a short off-road section with shallow steps down and round a corner. We’d been warned not to take them too fast or we might end up in the river. The run was about 5K, so it wasn’t long before we reached the finish in the park. Richard was there waiting for me having taken several photos, some more unflattering than others. And they may even appear here in due course.

We stayed for the presentations this time although as I expected there was nothing headed my way, not even a spot prize. For the record I was 6th out of 14 in my age group, and the splits were: swim – 18:47, bike – 56:28, run – 26:14, total – 1:44.48 and for those who like all the boring details I was in position 255-swim, 215-bike and 136-run out of a total of 260 finishers.

Just to finish the day we had a little stroll to Heddon’s Mouth on the North Devon Coast, a very picturesque spot. The fast flowing River Heddon reaches the sea here, and I discovered that wading across the pebbles, rocks and water was an excellent way to clean a pair of trainers.