Gosh but where has the year gone? I’ve just realised that my last update was back in May, and there have been many events since then, but the weeks seem to have run away with themselves, and suddenly we find ourselves on the brink of November. In fact this year’s events are essentially finished, other than a 10 km race in a couple of weeks time, so it seems a fitting time to post a wee round up of how things have gone.
I planned to take part in nine events this year, raising money for the Beatson Cancer Charity – this comprised seven triathlons, a long distance cycle and a long distance swim. I had hoped to do a long(er) distance run too, but the Glasgow half marathon clashed with an on call weekend that I couldn’t get out of, so instead I’ve signed up for a 10 km run in November to finish the season, which will take the total up to 10 events.
I posted about the Bishipbriggs and Bute Triathlons, and Caledonia Etape Cycle in my last blog, so I’ll tell you about the rest of the events here.
Strathclyde Triathlon Relay – rather than the usual format of triathlon relay, where three members make up a team and complete one section of the triathlon each, this event had teams of four, and each team mate took part in all three disciplines at shorter distances, so it’s all at full pelt – I had agreed to take part in a team and thought, given the shorter distances, it would mostly be novices taking part. How wrong I was. It turns out this is a really competitive race, and to make matters worse I was racer one in our team, so I had to take part in the mass start, mostly comprising fit young athletes who were half way round the bike lap by the time I had flailed my way round the swim. I should count my blessings though, just as we finished our leg, the heavens opened and those racers in second place in the teams nearly drowned in the torrential downpour that followed. After letting down my children a fortnight before in the Bute relay, I felt history was very rapidly repeating itself as I saw the very empty changeover pen where my fellow teammate water eagerly for my return to set off on his leg. Having gone all out on the cycle to try and make up some time, I developed the worst stitch I’ve ever encountered on the run and literally thought I’d infarcted something terribly important, but my team were very understanding and we did enjoy the day.
Stirling Triathlon – for some reason, most of these events seem to have frankly unacceptably early starts, and for very much not a morning person, this makes the whole thing much more of a challenge. Registration and transition opened at 5.45am (5.45am!!) which meant getting up at around 4.30am. That was me nearly pulling out due to extreme grumpiness, but after two weetabix and the promise of sunshine I was cheered enough to be persuaded out of the house by Paul, despite my 45-seconds nights sleep. On our arrival at Stirling we met the merry bunch of other competitors from Glasgow Triathlon Club who were taking part in either the Sprint, novice or relay races. The race was well organised, the cycle route very pleasant (other than a rather strong headwind on the way home) but the run had a near vertical climb that we (in the sprint) had to scale not once but twice (twice!). And the sun stayed out which made a huge difference!
Lochore open water Triathlon – this was my first open water sprint distance event. Having done the novice event here last year, my usual state of high anxiety was a teensy bit assuaged by memories of a nice calm swim followed by a flat cycle and run, all under blue skies with very little wind. Hmmmmm. We got the email about the children’s race timings first. Registration closed at 9.30am. Excellent I thought, that means the adult race must be in the afternoon after the children’s races in the morning. Well no of course that wasn’t the situation. Our email arrived shortly afterwards with the horrifying news that our registration closed at 8.15am. Oh and transition also closed at 8.15am. Let’s just say the atmosphere in the Glen household at 5.30am when we all had to get up was frosty. After a slight (total) satnav malfunction we arrived with a full five minutes to register and set up transition. We squeezed our bikes into non-existent spaces on the racks, threw down our towels and shoes and then headed off to find a toilet that flushed (the portable ones didn’t seem to plumbed into anything. I think their handles were just for show).
We then essentially abandoned the children with the dog, wishing them good luck in their own registering and transition-setting endeavours and made it to the beach just as the warm up was starting. At this point my swim cap ripped in two and by the time we’d sorted out another one, the swim warm up was over and the race was off! Sometimes I think a good preparation is overrated.
The swim out to the first buoy was not too bad, if unfeasibly long. On turning round the buoy however, suddenly the cross wind hit and it got altogether much choppier. This hadn’t happened last year in the novice because the weather was very much better and also we didn’t venture out very far from the shore. I had a wee wobble here, but fortunately this was a short section and then the home straight, while still long, seemed to have the wind behind us a bit. What was also behind us, and then indeed in front of us however was heat 2, which seemed to be made up of fantastically fast swimmers who zoomed past and by the time I got out the water I felt as if I’d be overtaken by most of the other competitors. This was compounded by the fact that when I reached transition I was met with rows of empty bike racks (I had forgotten the standard event had left before us and all of their bikes were away).
The bike course had changed and was much hillier than before! And quite wet and windy. But the run was great. It was an out and back on a flat course, and at regular intervals you encountered a fellow GTC member for a wave, smile, high five, cuddle or grunt. I knew I was being chased down by my super-running sister and as a result ran my fastest ever 5k, but she still got me in the last km. I don’t think I’ll ever out-run her, but having her in pursuit meant despite my longer swim time in the open water, I still managed to take a whole 20 seconds off my PB!
Loch Lomond Swim – after Team Beatson’s sponsored relay swim last year (seven staff and supporters (myself, Derek, Karen, Paul, Jonathan, David and Jan) from the Beatson swam 22 km on Loch Ard between us to raise funds for the charity), fellow Beatson Consultant and founder member of our swim team, Derek, came up with the concept of swimming the length of Loch Lomond as this year’s challenge. Being 39km long we knew we would need a bigger team and set about finding some more volunteers. Initially we found Catherine (one of our clinical oncology specialist registrars at the Beatson) and Laura, a fellow pilmuir swimmer who has found open water swimming (without a wetsuit!) has really helped her fight back from her own health problems. Derek and I were doing a ward round one day and talking about the fact that we still felt we were a bit short on team members, only to be overheard by one of the ward junior doctors (Emily) who was a swimmer in her youth, and she very kindly volunteered on the spot! That took us to 10 members which we hoped would be enough, but Robert (Hamilton of Vigour Events who was supporting us for this event), who has supported teams swimming Loch Lomond before, knew that last minute problems like adverse weather conditions and difficulties on the day could mean that we were stretching things a bit, so in the last week we recruited our last two team members at very short notice, Jenni (an anaesthetist friend of Catherine) and Jessica, a swimmer Robert has coached. We also had a team of support drivers who were on hand to transfer the three different shifts of swimmers to their pick up points.
The first team – Paul, Karen, Catherine and Jonathan set off at 6am from Ardlui with Paul getting in the water first. Everyone swam for between an hour and an hour and a half. Therefore everyone swam initially somewhere between 2-4.5 km. The weather conditions were dreadful with torrential rain most of the day. Everything in the two rescue boats got completely soaked through and most of us were drenched before we even got in the water. We were all on the boat (an uncovered rescue jib) for somewhere between 5-10 hours. Towards the end of the last swimmer (Emily) we all then got back in the water around Cameron House and swam the last km together. (So everyone’s total swim was between 3-6 km). By that point it was turning to dusk and was quite atmospheric. But we could hear the shouts and whoops of encouragement of our family and friends who had gathered at the Maid of the Loch beach to cheer us home, and we finally arrived just after 8.30pm (roughly 14.5 hours after setting off).
Despite the weather, and cold, long hours on the boat, it was a tremendous experience and Derek, somewhat worryingly, has already told us he has a good idea for 2018.
Mid Argyll Triathlon – in the holiday September weekend, after a night of camping in a monsoon (there was no accommodation to be found anywhere near Lochgilphead) we took part in possibly the wettest triathlon of the year. The saving grace was the fact that there was a huge turnout from our club to cheer us on, as the weather conditions were truly awful. A shorter than usual swim was followed by what would have been a standard cycle, but was somewhat complicated by the relentless horizontal torrential rain. However, the rain finally eased in time for the run, which at 6.5 km was longer than the usual 5 km distance for a sprint triathlon, but the setting was lovely, out and back along the Crinan Canal. The last kilometre did seem unfeasibly long but finally the wee hill back down to the road came into view and the shouts of encouragement from the hardy spectators got me over the finish line.
Craggy Island Triathlon – and so to my final triathlon of the year – Craggy Island. Oh my lord. Now don’t get me wrong – I didn’t think it was going to be easy. This race is an open water event that starts just outside Oban and involves swimming over the sea to the Isle of Kerrara, followed by an an off-road mountain bike round the island, and finishes with a trail run. We had set off after work on the Friday night and belted up the road to get to our campsite late on the Friday (fortunately we were in a bunkhouse this time rather than a tent!)
We awoke, somewhat unsurprisingly, to heavy rain. After our nervous breakfast and 15 trips to the toilet we set about packing the numerous bags that were required for the day. A race on an island throws up a whole new set of logistical problems not faced in normal races. Especially when the island in question doesn’t have any buildings and it’s pouring. We had transition bags, food bags, bags of dry clothes for the end, bags to put wet clothes in, spare clothes for the children who were being abandoned (along with their cousins) on said island for much of the day.
Laden down with our 20 bags and two bikes, we set off down the hill to the ferry ‘terminal’. The walk was a little longer than we anticipated but we made it finally, only to find a very large queue snaking along the road. The Calmac Ferry men were certainly counting very accurately the number of people allowed on each crossing (answer = about 3). We finally made it on to the Isle of Kerrara, which I suspected was beautiful at times of any visibility, which at that particular time on Saturday morning was sadly lacking.
Off we set to transition. This was quite a casual affair. No call for bike racks here! Really you just laid your bike down where you fancied, while trying to avoid the worst of the poo. I’m not sure there can be another transition area in the world quite so covered in sheep poo, but it rather added to the atmosphere. I’m not sure why I tried to avoid it to be honest, if I’d known what was around the corner. After registering and getting into our wetsuits it was back to the ferry. We re-congregated on the jetty on the mainland. The race was a bit late in starting as we waited for the other 25 crossings required to ship the remaining competitors back over. By this time we were pretty freezing, but we were cheerily informed at the eventual race briefing that the water temperature had been verified as a balmy 14.5 ℃ (I am still sure this was a lie) and therefore all booties were banned. I duly took mine off (never to be seen again), and without much ado, we all had to get into the water (it was freezing).
The Swim – we had been told the current was going right to left, and therefore it was an idea to start right and let the current do some of the work. I seemed to take this a little bit too much to heart and ended up swimming quite far out to the right, ultimately having to change tack to land at the island jetty. But other than adding an extra 100m to my swim, I quite enjoyed it. There is something rather lovely about not having to count lengths, or worry about someone trying to get past you. As this was just a (relatively) straight swim from A to B, we didn’t even have to contend with any buoys. The water was indeed cold but not too choppy, and beautifully clear. And I think having something else to worry about (the cycle) meant I didn’t worry so much about the swim, and so I enjoyed it more. Unfortunately there was quite a long, and near vertical, climb up the jetty and up to transition (through the mud), while wrestling out of the wetsuit, which was all a bit frantic and breathless.
The Cycle – I’m just not sure where to start with this. I don’t mountain bike. And there is a reason for this. It’s because it’s rubbish. If I want to go up a mountain, I’ll go for a walk and take in the views. If I wanted to go for a trail run through rivers and mud I might consider it. But why would I take a bike to do any of that? I tried to like it in preparation for Craggy. I even bought a mountain bike. I went to two of the MTB sessions that the club ran before the summer which were great and at least allowed me to get on the bike and change gear. My friend and I then tried to have a wee practise in the summer in Mugdock which ultimately involved pushing our bikes around the MTB trails for an hour before putting them back on the car and going for a run instead. And there ends my MTB experience. ‘Don’t worry’ said everyone to us that had done Craggy before – ‘it’s really not that technical a course’. Hmph.
I took my bike out of transition feeling quite pleased with my position after the swim. And thus started the 50 mile vertical ascent up the first mountain. My pleased feeling about my position lasted roughly three minutes, by which point everyone else in the race had passed me. I eventually gave up and started pushing, thus adopting the position I was to maintain for the majority of the bike section. There were a few stragglers at the back with me who similarly struggled to get up any of the hills, but they were then able to take off with some speed on the treacherous downhill sections, whilst I remained at a near standstill with my brakes firmly on, for fear of life-threatening injury. After what felt like hours of alternating uphill/downhill torture, I stopped to have a drink and check my garmin to see if I was nearly finished. I had covered 3.5km. I nearly wept. It was at this point that I seriously thought I might not make it back a) alive, or certainly not b) before nightfall.
On I trudged, through streams, actual lochs (it seemed), mud and marsh, with the occasional marshall offering a kind ‘well done!!’ (we both knew they were lying), and at one point a group of sympathetic cheery ramblers.
After one particularly steep uphill section I actually asked the marshall at the top if anyone had managed to cycle to the top and was told roughly 1 in 20. I would like to see the thighs of those people because they must be the size of a reasonably sized tree.
At the bottom of this steep hill was lovely man and his two cute teeny children with a table of water and huge tub of jelly babies. I stopped for a chat and found out that his partner was running as part of a relay team and so the wee ones were looking forward to cheering on their mum. Whilst having this chat, I became aware of the sound of footsteps, and realised to my horror, that I was being overtaken by a runner. A RUNNER!! Bl***y b*****d. Sorry for swearing. But how very rude. There was no need for that kind of speed putting us all to shame. What with all the jelly babies, and the threat of the shame of being beaten back by a runner, I was spurred into action and jumped right back onto my bike. And quickly jumped off it to push it up the last hill. But then we were on a track. A track!! Hoorah! And I thought I had another 7km to go (the course was billed as a 14km cycle) but it quickly became apparent that there was much less to go than that, and so I powered along the last 3km of the cycle, passing the pesky runner, to make it back to transition before dark, and before the first finisher was in. Phew.
The Run – by this point, I was so relieved not to be pushing a bike up a mountain, that my spirits lifted considerably. Until I turned the corner up the first hill out of transition, only to discover that we now had to run up an even bigger mountain. Clearly by this point my time was not a winning one, and so I decided to just enjoy the view and treat this section as a pleasant hill walk in lovely surroundings. The rain had stopped, the visibility had improved considerably and the sun was even peeking out. Towards the top of the mountain I caught up with GTC members Bobby and Mike and we kept each other company to the summit. On reaching the top, we met a lovely (if freezing) marshall who gave us all fruit pastilles and took some photos. I think this was the highlight of my race. After this I set off on my descent. The views were gorgeous, I was going downhill in my new trail shoes which do indeed give you loads of grip, and I found myself, much to my surprise, somewhat filled with a new vigour. I began to catch up with, and pass quite a lot of runners (this never happens to me), but in fairness I think it was due to my dreadful cycle putting me so far back in the field. The final bit of track did however feel significantly longer than it had on the cycle, but buoyed by encouragement of the lovely GTC teammates who had waited the extra hours, and our children, I finally got up the last hill to the finish.
And so there you have it. It’s been a year full of challenges – I can’t say I’ve enjoyed every minute but I’ve definitely been pleased to get to the end! Thanks to all who have already donated. And, as usual, there’s a wee video of diary of the year with some highlights from all the events which you can see by clicking here.
If you’ve managed to get to the end of this (!) and you fancy donating to the marvellous Beatson Cancer Charity, you can follow this link. Thank you!!