Tag Archives: Mersey Tri

Photo of AM at canoe club

Making history in the world’s first woman only quadrathlon

Planning

Last December, while planning my 2017 race calendar, I came across the Deva Divas Quadrathlon. This was a new addition to the famous Deva Divas triathlon run by Chester Tri Club. When I hit the enter button, I have no doubt it was one of those windy and rainy days where you are grateful to be tucked up inside and you are dreaming of the gloriously long summer days where running and multi-sport glory is yours for the taking.

Photo of the River Dee

Tranquil view from the steps of Chester Canoe Club

You might remember that Adventurous Dad is a keen canoeist, having built his own sea kayak, so I maintain that it is mainly his fault that that I signed up for this. I cannot deny I was intrigued at making history with the world’s first woman only quadrathlon. I really wasn’t sure about my canoe skills having struggled with the beginner’s pool course. So thankfully the wonderful Jean Ashley arranged a temporary membership of Chester Canoe Club for all quadrathletes with coached sessions on Saturday mornings (we were also able to go to the club nights on Tuesdays and Thursdays) for the three months leading up to the race.

Training

Photo of AM at canoe club

All gear, no idea!

A group of very warm and friendly ladies turned up for the first session on 22 April, which was a gloriously sunny day. For me it really was the case of “all gear and no idea” because Adventurous Husband lent me his kit so I really looked the part  in his canoeing top and buoyancy aid. I even managed to get in the canoe without falling in the water but then it became apparent that I was rubbish at going in a straight line. I became the plucky straggler at the back of the group.

Like my first attempt at open water swimming, (in freezing cold Windermere) I did my usual thought process after that session: I am so rubbish at this, why did I think I could do this? Then I got a grip and told myself that I had 3 months to practice. I wasn’t keen to come last but, if I had to, I kept telling myself it wasn’t the end of the world if I did. I was trying something new and getting out of my comfort zone.

Eventually we progressed to racing canoes. I missed a few sessions due to family commitments and the marathon training but when I went back everyone had moved on to sleek racing canoes and they were all raving about the boat called Bertha! I had to have a go.  Bertha is a racing canoe but slightly more stable than some of the other boats. It was a revelation for me as there was a skeg which helped to make the canoe go straight. Turning in it took forever but I didn’t care, I could finally go a lot straighter!

We had coaching also from John and Carol from the Canoe club who were very patient with us. We practiced our transitions on the banks of the Dee and, as race day got closer, I began to think that I might just be able to do this without looking like a complete idiot in the canoe leg (and perhaps not finish last?)

Photo of AM at Chester bridge

Glorious day for the recce of the bike course .

I also managed to head out with Hannah and Hilary for a recce of the bike course. Hilary is a keen cyclist and her idea of a gentle cycle (the day before doing the Chris Hoy 100 miler) was a bit of an all out cycle for me! I had swum in West Kirby marine lake that morning, drove straight to Chester for the canoe training and then we headed out onto the bike. I planned to go for a quick run when I got home but I was exhausted and did not move much off the sofa that night.

The best bit of having signed up for this race was no doubt meeting, and training with, all the amazing women. We all remained really supportive of each other. There was a real excitement in the air the day before the race when we all gathered to sort out our canoes and paddles for the race and to get them to the transition area. Plans were made for a picnic following the race the next day.

The Race

At the beginning of July, 2 weeks away from the race, I had my doubts as to whether I was going to make the start line. I had just gone off sick from work with stress and anxiety. Should I really put myself under further pressure? Would work consider that I wasn’t really ill if I took part? My GP had advised me to keep exercising throughout so that’s what I did.

Photo of transition

Transition is slightly more complicated than usual!

I decided to go ahead because it seemed a waste of 3 months of canoe training. Triathlon is my “happy place” and I thought I would feel even more of a failure if I didn’t do the race. The sense of achievement of completing the race would hopefully give me a boost.

The morning of the race was grey and drizzly. I didn’t have the family with me as Adventurous Daughter was grading for her judo belt which is probably just as well for them as the weather was so miserable. The camper van was all loaded up with kit and picnic items and I was ready to go at the crack of dawn.

Jean had provided us all with a checklist for transition; useful because there was even more to think about. Our paddles, buoyancy aids (we all had a giggle that we had to wear buoyancy aids on the canoe leg, given that we had swum in the water prior to that!) and canoe shoes all had to be there with the usual bike and run gear.

The race started with a walk across the Meadows in Chester to the start of the swim. It was the first time I have ever been in the first wave of the swim as we quadrathletes were set off first before the triathlon waves. I felt like royalty as the announcer kept saying that we were making history with the world’s first women only quadrathlon.

Photo of AM in canoe

Canoe leg, poised to overtake…

I managed to make a good start on the 750 metre swim for a change and I came out of the water in 17 minutes and 20 seconds. Members of the canoe club were on hand to help us with carrying our canoes down to the water.  So off I went, noting that I wasn’t last out of the water for the swim so I had a good chance of not being last on the canoe leg which was now my number one goal for the race!  I even managed to overtake another woman (sorry Helen!) in the canoe.

Buoyed up (no pun intended!) by not being last in the canoe leg, I was off onto the bike. The drizzle was quite heavy by now if that is not a contradiction in terms. I was really glad of the recce of the course as I knew when to power on and when I had to ease back. I had to stop for roadworks but there were marshals making a note of anyone stopped and my time was adjusted by 30 seconds later to take account of the stoppage. It was a nice relatively flat out and back course so I actually enjoyed the bike leg for once!

Photo of AM running

Digging in for a great run time, only 24 secs off my PB

And then finally onto my favourite discipline, the run. Two laps of the Meadows stood between me and my Quadrathlon bling so I dug in and got it done in 24 minutes 54 seconds; the 6th best run time in the quadrathlon.

As I crossed the line, Jean was there with a special quadrathlon medal to place around my neck. As she hugged me, I burst into tears. The relief of not being last out of the canoe nor indeed last overall was too great. Combined with the stress I had been suffering, it was just a bit too overwhelming for me.  Eating the yummy cake given out at the end soon put me right. In fact, I finished 17th out of 27 quadrathletes in a time of 2 hours 28 and 34 seconds. I was very pleased with that in the end.

I was feeling torn about getting home to see Adventurous Daughter who passed her judo grading and staying for the picnic but in the end the sun came out quite suddenly and who would not want to stay and celebrate such an amazing event?

So if you are looking to add literally another dimension to your multi-sport endeavours, I cannot recommend quadrathlon enough. Deva Divas do have another quadrathlon next year but be quick as I understand that all 50 places are nearly taken. I am looking for different challenges next year so I won’t be doing it again (and, let’s face it, I’m not that good at canoeing!) but I may be there cheering on or marshaling.

Jean Ashley

Jean, aka the Fairy Quadmother, presenting the prizes at the end of the Quadrathlon.

AM finishing the marathon

42.2 kilometres – the answer to life, the universe and everything?

The roller coaster ride is over. The race is done and I have returned to walking normally – DOMS (Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness) has a lot to answer for! So how do I feel now about the Liverpool Rock and Roll marathon a few weeks (actually now months) on?

First, shall we go back to the start of the race? Having stayed at my sister’s the night before, (she lives within walking distance of the start), I got a great night’s sleep and did not suffer any nerves on race morning. The one good thing about doing triathlon is that when you come to do “just” a running race, there is much less to think about. So I walked along to the start to see off my cousin who was doing her very first half marathon. The race start was delayed by 15 minutes or so because the Manchester bombing the week before meant that the security at the bag drop had been more stringent. It didn’t seem to dampen the spirits and eventually with a loud cheer they were all off.

AM at the start

Fresh faced at the start. Kids with cow bells ready for cheering!

I then made my way to my allocated Corral for the start of the marathon and bumped into my parkrun/Twitter/sometime running buddy, Brian. We started in waves which is a great idea so that you can find space to run in at the start. The first band at Pier Head was fantastic. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of finally having started but their rendition of Fleetwood Mac’s “You can go your own way” changed to “You can run your own way” was very stirring. Unfortunately, they were easily the best band on the course and the music went a bit downhill after that (unlike the course!)

I caught up with the 4 hours 30 minute pacer and stuck with them for a good part of the way. Both pacers were great; keeping up a running commentary and banter. We ran past both football stadiums of Everton and Liverpool with Stanley Park sandwiched between them. I have never been in Stanley park before – what a revelation! The newly restored glass house was gorgeous and I marvelled at the craftmanship in the red sandstone bandstand.

I was glad of the pacer’s advice for short steps going up hill as there were plenty at this stage! It treated us to great views of the city but I was glad to be heading back down Islington to the City Centre and the flatter part of the course.

It was at this point I needed to make a toilet stop, roughly 8-9 miles in. I heeded advice (relayed to me by Brian) from a friend who ran the London Marathon. I decided to go to the toilet at that point rather than hanging on. I believe it is rather more difficult to get off the toilet at the later stages of the marathon when one’s legs may have started to seize up! I noticed an empty toilet on Islington and seized the opportunity. I waved goodbye to the pacer for now but astonishingly managed to catch them up on the water front, just as we were passing the Albert Dock.

When I emerged from the toilet, I started to run with another runner who had come up from London but who was originally from South Africa. We chatted a little but we were both quite content to run alongside each other in silence. We parted ways in Sefton Park when he said that he couldn’t quite keep up the pace. I had also crossed paths a few times with Lisa from Huddersfield who was also doing her first marathon and chatted with her. The great thing about a marathon is the opportunity to chat to people as you are on your feet for a long time (especially at my pace) and anything helps to break up the monotony.

As we left Sefton Park, about the 17 mile mark, I was beginning to tire and the pacers were starting to drift away from me. Although I was keen to hit 4 hours 30 minutes, I surprised myself by being fairly philosophical about this and I held onto the thought that this was my first marathon and just to finish was an achievement.

At mile 18, we hit Penny Lane and yes, the Beatles song of the same name was playing on repeat at this point. I am not sure why but this was the first of two points during the race that I began to sob. I had been warned that this might happen and I think it is just a little release of tension! I saw Gemma, another parkrun/Twitter buddy at this point and got myself together just in time for a high five.

I thought that would be it but no, I had another little cry at mile 20. This time, I think, was actual disappointment as we had run round the back roads in the Mossley Hill Drive area and emerged a lot further back on Aigburth Road than I anticipated. I really was making a lot of noise by this stage and I apologise now to two male runners who I startled with my sobbing and heavy breathing as I tried to keep running!

I got a bit of relief on the downhill section to Otterspool Promenade but by the time I turned onto the prom itself my hips were beginning to complain. I knew it was nothing serious, just the effort of running 22 miles had caught up with me. I had to grit my teeth and get on with it. I stopped for a few walking breaks for the first time in the whole race. There wasn’t much music left at this stage (even though there was supposed to be a band every mile) and the support had thinned out too. One man did spur me on as I started to run again after a walking break and he said “That’s it, Mersey Tri, we will pretend you never took that walking break!” Typical Scouse humour to get me through and I loved it.

AM finishing the marathon

My imaginary sandwich photo!

Just as I turned into the last mile, I saw Jon Rumley, Mr Birkenhead parkrun himself. He wasn’t running but doing a grand job of supporting with supplies of Jaffa Cakes and Fruit Pastilles. Had I not been in so much pain in my hips and legs, I would have gladly stopped, but I just wanted it to be over and for the pain to stop so I waved feebly and ran/hobbled on.

Finally the finish gantry was in sight. All thoughts on my finishing time were gone, I just needed to finish now. Somehow I managed to pick up the pace in the finish chute, although it took all my effort and an imaginary sandwich(!) as you can see from the photo.

AM and twins at finish

Smiles and bling at the finish. The kids did the mile race for a yellow submarine medal!

The overwhelming emotion I felt as I crossed the line was relief. Relief that it was over and I could stop running; relief that I had achieved a lifelong aim of completing a marathon; relief that it was a respectable time of 4 hours 37 minutes and relief to be reunited with my family, after collecting my bling and goody bag. No more tears at this stage although I did have a wobble in my voice as I was talking to another runner at the end of the race as we walked through the Echo Arena picking up our post race goodies.

My final thoughts on the race are:

  1. The wave starts are a great idea because it meant you could get running at your own pace relatively quicker.
  2. The route around Liverpool was great, taking in all the major sights. Effectively a running tour of the city.
  3. Apart from the band at Pier Head, the promised bands/music every mile were not great. Some were not playing when we ran past and by the end of the race, most had packed up and gone home! There should at least be music playing even if it was not live.
  4. The bling was amazing. I didn’t really like the design of the medal but there’s no denying its weight and “blinginess”.
  5. I was disappointed that the finisher’s T shirt was the same for the half marathon and marathon. I want people to know that I ran the full 26.2!
  6. Overall a great race and I would do it again, save for the fact that I want to do different challenges next year.

So here’s the thing. I started this blog post about 3 weeks after the marathon. I was going through a particularly stressful time at work and I never finished writing it. My thoughts at the time were that I felt great having done the marathon but I didn’t suddenly become invincible because I had run 26 miles all in one go. I still had to go back to work with all its stress. Running was no panacea to life’s ills. Those were my thoughts at the time (and still are) hence the headline for this post.  

At the beginning of July, I was signed off work with stress and anxiety by my very understanding GP. I haven’t been back to work since and have now resigned from my job. If you know me, follow my Twitter or my Adventurous Mum page, you will know that I went onto do my quadrathlon and Coniston End to End swim (spoiler alert!). I even amazed myself that I was able to keep training and contemplate completing the events. The thing is that it was my training that kept me afloat; it was my stress relief; it was fresh air and sunshine; it was socialising with my tri and running buddies and all of that prevented me from sliding into a heap in the corner. I am grateful that my family understood this and continued to support me.

So here are some of the things I hope you will take away from this post:

  1. Don’t believe that everyone on social media has a perfect life. Had you looked at any of my online profiles, it looked as though it was business as usual for me. I couldn’t share this until now as I was still employed and also, I am not one to seek out online sympathy (I did plenty of that off line!). I share it now because I am now able to, and if it makes one person feel better about their troubles, then it has been worthwhile.
  2. There are so many inspirational people out there sharing amazing stories of how running has changed their life because they lost a lot of weight, got fitter and met wonderful people in the running community. Everyone likes a Cinderella type story and I got sucked in too. I believed that once I had run the marathon, I would develop a shield against the things that were troubling me: stress at work in my case.
  3. What is important though is that running/exercise can help you cope with those stresses.  It cannot take the life events and stress away but it can help how you respond to the stress. I have no doubt that had I not stuck with my training, I would be in a worse state now and not able to contemplate going back to work (in a different job obviously) at this stage.
  4. Don’t underestimate the healing power of your friends and family. There are so many wonderful people out there in the running and tri communities. My tri buddies got me out on my bike and to keep up my swimming.  Some of you may not have known my circumstances this summer but it helped just to be out socialising and talking normal running stuff. Running may not necessarily change your life but meeting some fantastic people along the way has got to be one of the best benefits.

 

A new race on my doorstep? On a route on which I regularly train? Flat course? Loads of my running friends doing it too? Sounded good to me. Which explains why on a Friday night at the end of September I found myself signing up for the inaugural Wirral Way Half Marathon on 8 January 2017 and joining in on lots of excited chatter on social media.

I have done a January half marathon before – see my related blog post below for my review of the 4 Villages half marathon last year which I loved doing. I felt I couldn’t do both (although I wish I had now!) so I thought to myself that the Wirral Way Half Marathon had better be pretty special. I signed up to an ASICS plan (you can find them online) which tailors the training to your goals and time available and I started training at the end of October (once I had recovered from the Metric Marathon).

Photo of Loch Creran

Scotland – a place where the scenery is good for the soul

Training was going pretty well until the week before Christmas when I came down with a cold. Luckily it wasn’t a truly nasty cold. I was able to carry on with the preparations for Christmas and I “only” lost a week’s training. We also went to Scotland for Christmas and Storms Barbara and Connor meant that I lost a little bit more time. On the plus side, I enjoyed a long run on the Oban to Fort William cycle path. There’s nothing like running in very picturesque surroundings to boost the spirit.

Back home to the Wirral to the pre-race information or in my case, the lack of it. I had to rely on my parkrun buddies to forward it to me. As other people noted, it didn’t fill me with confidence because it was full of spelling mistakes and grammatical errors (so I had better make sure this blog post is perfect on both fronts!).  The race organisers weren’t able to secure closure of the roads at the crossing points so that meant that these were being manned by marshals and we may have to stop. I wouldn’t have put my safety over a PB but I really wanted that sub 2 hour half marathon.

Photo of AM and parkrun buddies

Parkrun buddies Brian and Gemma looking good at the start of the race

Surprisingly the race day weather was good. Very little wind, about 6 degrees and only very light rain was forecast.  The absence of wind was a decisive factor in my decision on the morning of the race to push for the PB even with the road crossings.

The nice thing about racing locally is knowing a lot of people also doing the race. So there were lots of familiar faces in the car park at Hooton station where the race was to start. The difference with this race was that the start times were staggered as the start of the course was very narrow. There were quite a few people I knew in my 9.30am wave start so was happy to chat to them as we waited to start. I did get hemmed in at the beginning so that my first kilometre was 6.26 minutes but after that I managed to get clear and started to pass people. Much more satisfying to pick people off in a race than being passed anyway.

Photo of AM at Wirral Way HM

4 miles in and feeling good…(photo credit to Paul Avison)

The “southern” parts of the Wirral way were not entirely unknown to me as I have been on every part of it before at some point. However, I haven’t been on them for a long time so they were “fresh” to me and I enjoyed this element of the race. At 4 miles in, I was feeling pretty good, doing a reasonable pace and felt that I could run all day.

The light rain started soon after and I regretted my decision not to wear my peaked cap. But it was quite cooling so I pushed on. I thought that I might struggle going past the finish at around 9-10 miles but as there were loads of friends out supporting, it was quite a boost. Only 3 miles to go and still on course for sub 2 hours!

Just one and half miles later, I nearly lost the plot at Cubbins Green. I thought we were just turning round there but staying on the path. So when we had to run down onto the Green itself with its bumpy grass and muddy climb up back to the path, I lost precious time and my inner critic (my chimp!) told me that it was no good and to abandon all hope of a sub 2 hour finish.  I really had to pull it together and told that little voice to shut up, that we were doing this or else! Sheer determination got me to the finish in 1 hour 59 minutes and 38 seconds. Finally achieved the goal, and it felt good.

Photo of medal from Wirral way Half Marathon

First bling of 2017

Great to see so many people at the finish and I was able to share out my yummy cupcakes I had arranged for my birthday (it was the day before). Most people were tucking into the hog roast laid on at the finish but I stuck to cake. The medal was pretty ,if a little small, and the red T shirt made a nice change although my only small gripe with this was that it didn’t refer specifically to the Wirral Way so please take note race organisers if you read this! Otherwise I thought this was a great race which surpassed initial expectations. Most of my friends had a positive experience too.

The great thing about the running community is how supportive it is and this race was no exception. Thanks to my Mersey Tri friends Collette and Sue for picking me up and taking me to the start, thanks to my parkrun buddies for support before the race, thanks to my running group friends for their support on the course and, most of all, thanks to my family, who would rather be doing other stuff than coming out on cold January morning to support a mad woman who is obsessed with running 13.1 miles in under 2 hours!

Photo of AM and family

At the finish with Adventurous Son and Daughter – “Euuw mummy you’re all wet!”

 

 

 

 

 

Chirk Triathlon – A Tale of the Unexpected

Chirk Triathlon is a favourite race among the North West triathlon community. It’s an early season pool triathlon in picturesque North Wales.

I did this triathlon waaay back. The exact year is lost in the mists of time (and probably my race number with the finishing time scrawled on the back is lost in our attic – imagine the last scene in Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark where the box containing the Ark is stored away- that’s our attic) but it was probably 2003 or 2004. I did the race on my mountain bike fitted with road tyres and a swimsuit with a T shirt over it. Not so much as a sniff of a high tech watch in those days!

Photo of Chirk Buff and race belt

The answer to my transition prayers (and a useful buff!)

I also did the race last year and had so much fun with my Mersey Tri buddies that we all entered again. I always like to try and improve but my main aims were better transitions and a better bike time. For some reason I didn’t use my Tri race belt last year and pinned my number to my top. Big mistake!  I forgot that you have to display the number on the back during the cycle leg and turn it round to the front during the run. I wasted valuable minutes in transition unpinning the numbers.

Not this year. Although I took my race belt with me, Wrecsam Tri gave out race belts and a buff as part of the goody bag in registration. Theirs was much easier to use than my existing one so it was the race belt of choice.

There was a change to the registration process this year too. We were given a time to register and once you had done that and put your bike in transition, you had to be at the pool side within 30 min ready to start.

I had an early ish start time of 9.57 by the time I joined the queue at the poolside.  I managed a nice solid swim of 9 minutes and 13 seconds (includes running out to the timing mat) and into T1 to collect my bike. All went smoothly so I was feeling good as I headed out.

Photo of AM on bike at Chirk Tri

A genuine smile – relieved to be finished the bike leg!

From last year’s experience, I knew that the bike leg is an out and back run of 23km. It is a little deceptive because it looks as if you are going downhill when in fact it is an slight uphill all the way out to Glyn Ceiriog and then a nice solid downhill ride back apart from the final hill back into Chirk. I was a bit disappointed to get held up by some cars at the roundabout at the top of said hill. However, worse was to come because I noticed an air ambulance in the field as I approached the town and then lots of blue lights from about 3 ambulances and 2 police cars. I had to slow right down and, further down the road, avoid a tanker that was parked part of the way across the road. I later learned that one of the competitors, who was said to be 72, had had a cardiac arrest and was airlifted to hospital. While he was being treated, the race was stopped.

I didn’t know this at the time though and I was therefore confused when I got back to transition and my friend Lisa came over to talk to me. She should have been out on her bike leg but as the race had stopped, she had to hang around (wet and cold) until it re-started. I was lucky enough that I could carry on the run leg as it was away from the accident scene.

Photo of AM finishing

Grimacing this time…

It’s a really hilly run to test your mettle. I managed not to stop running last year but this year, I just couldn’t make it up the really steep hill towards the end of the run and resorted to walking.

Despite that, I was convinced that I was about to shave a few seconds off my time from last year but, in fact, I was 17 seconds slower. My bike time was 1 minute slower than last year although much of that would have been down to the accident. I was happy with my transitions though, 2 mins 13 sec for T1 and 1 min 40 secs for T2.  Got to take the positives where you find them!

With hindsight, I wasn’t really all that well either. I had been suffering from a mildly sore throat and headache for the 3 days before the race but I had felt better that morning so decided to go for it. I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t improved if I am being honest but it was tempered with a sense of relief that my race went smoothly and that I was alive and well and healthy enough to complete a triathlon, unlike the competitor who had the accident on his bike leg.

The accident caused the race to stop for an hour and half in the end. No doubt, this was a bit frustrating for those waiting to start but safety first. The marshals did a good job in difficult circumstances.  I haven’t heard how the triathlete is but I hope he makes a good recovery. He was described as being in a serious condition.

Although there was an unexpected twist to this year’s race, it’s still a race that we all enjoy doing: well organised, nice scenic bike course, nice race goodies and great camaraderie between the competitors. I will be back next year to challenge my time yet again!