Tag Archives: open water

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.

Delightful Dee Mile

I promised myself that I wouldn’t enter any events between Leeds Tri and Liverpool Tri so as to focus on my training for the standard distance Tri that I did Liverpool on 14 August (another blog post to follow). The lack of organisation at Leeds Tri had put me off a little, if I am honest.

As time went on though, I missed the thrill having a race to go to (the words adrenaline junkie spring to mind!). I really wanted to do the Dee Mile but I was also hesitant because a few Mersey Tri buddies had done the Deva Triathlon on 11th June and had fallen ill after swimming in the Dee. The really nice weather and dry spell in May, followed by heavy rain at the beginning of June led to the bacteria that had accumulated on the ground being swept into the river. Hence the GI distress suffered by many.

As the race drew nearer, some other friends entered it, and I noted that we hadn’t had any really nasty weather so I told myself that the Dee Mile was just a training opportunity to improve my swim times before Liverpool Tri. I have never swum in a river before (not as a race) so a new experience box was also ticked and I found myself in front of the computer screen, with a credit card entering the 2km race.

My family were away in Scotland so I was doing this on my own. However it was a really nice event for families to come and watch. The car parking was in the Meadows in Chester. The weather was kind and lots of people had brought picnics and chairs and were settling down for a nice afternoon.

Photo of goody bag

Goody bag from the race. I liked the handgels and wipes for preventing norovirus.

Registration was quick and easy, I picked up a very nice goody bag and wandered off to the Selkie stall for a look around. Eventually I succumbed and bought a dry bag/inflatable tow for wild swimming which I later used on my holiday in Scotland.

The race briefing undertaken at 5pm, it was time to start the walk to the start. The race was going downstream with the current which was a relief. However it  took about 20 minutes to walk upstream to the start. I had flipflops for this but they were taken off me quite early for transporting back to the start so I had another 10 mins to walk over rough ground in my bare feet. Top tip: take someone with you to carry your shoes!

Also it wasn’t ideal for me as I had to leave my hearing aids at the beginning to be transported to the finish. It was very hard to have conversations with friends without them (sorry guys for having to repeat yourselves so much!). I got very hot at this point too as the sun had come out so it was a relief to reach the start and jump in off a very nicely placed pontoon.

Lining up for the start, I had to keep pushing back against the current not to go over the start line. The usual washing machine start ensued and whilst I tried my best to stay with the pack, I quickly found myself lagging behind. On the plus side, I found I got into my stroke (stride?) quite quickly once I got some clear water. I couldn’t remember the advice I was given before hand whether to get close to the bank or not but it didn’t seem to matter because I seemed to be pushed over to the middle of the river.

AM after Dee Mile Swim

Well earned hot chocolate in my special Dee Mile Swim Mug after the race

I was glad I had checked the forecast and placed my faith in it because the sun was splitting the sky and I had chosen to wear my tinted goggles.  It was simply a glorious evening for a swim.

The finish was at the suspension bridge so when I saw that coming up, I put a final spurt on. We had been told that we needed to place our chips on the timing block at the finish. On crossing under the gantry, there were some confused swimmers, trying to reach what looked like the timing blocks which were high up but it turned out we didn’t need to do this. My time registered at 39 minutes and 36 seconds; a time with which I was very happy.  Even with the assistance from the current, that was one of my fastest ever times and much faster than I had done in training.

One of my friends who did the 1km option said that the start there was a bit more chaotic. It seemed to put off some of the novice swimmers in that race especially when the fast swimmers from the next wave came up behind them because when I arrived at the finish, there were quite a few swimmers holding onto the support canoes. Perhaps the organisers could allow slightly longer between the waves next time?

All in all, even with the uncomfortable walk to the start, I really enjoyed this race. the added bonus was that I was not ill afterwards! Hopefully one for my calendar next year…

Marine Lakes and Mountain Tops

I have a relatively quiet month in May, “just”  the Edinburgh Half Marathon on 29th May. I am building back up my running mileage in preparation for that. As my race number recently arrived, it is becoming reality.

So we will have to be content with some mini-adventures and what better than the start of the open water swimming season!

Photo of AM at Marine Liake

Dryrobe: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…with apologies to Shakespeare…

Bear in mind that the previous session of open water swimming was cancelled over the bank holiday weekend because of high winds and low temperatures. So the fact that the swimming took place at all was a minor miracle (as was the fact that the weather went from Arctic to tropical in the blink in an eye).  I was convinced that I would simply get in the water and it would be so painful that I would simply dash out again!

I kitted up as much as possible: neoprene socks and cap and took my dry robe to stay warm pre and post swim (bought at the Tri expo). I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could get in without too much pain. I then tried to put my face in the water and whoa! Instant ice cream head! I pulled my cap further down my forehead and that seemed to do the trick. I managed a kilometre before I lost the feeling in my hands. Note to self: take gloves next time! I still loved it, looking up to the sky and across the broad expanse of sea (well, across the marine lake at West Kirby where we train.)

I felt inexplicably happy all day after that and I can only put this down to the open water swimming. Probably down to the adrenaline rush that open water swimming brings!

Not normally one for looking back, I thought I would also reflect on my climb up Goatfell on Arran during our Easter holiday. I wrote a brief Facebook post about reaching the top but thought I’d expand on it slightly as not everyone reading this blog follows my page on Facebook.

Arran is a wonderful island off the west coast of Scotland, reached by ferry from Ardrossan. It’s where my husband’s late father came from and where my husband spent his childhood holidays. It holds a very special place in his heart and I have fallen in love with it too. None of the family are left on the island but we go back every 2 years or so.

When we went to Arran, back in the days before we had the children, we always stayed with Adventurous Husband’s Aunt Flora who was a wonderful character and had great stories about island life. On one of these visits, we decided to climb Goatfell, the highest mountain on Arran, standing at 2,866 ft. Not quite a Munro (a mountain over 3,000 ft), but as the climb starts at sea level, a fair hike. We took a long route in from Brodick Castle. By the time we got to near the top,  I felt exhausted and felt unable to scramble up the rocks to the top. I recall that I was a bit overweight and had had back problems on and off during this time but I think the biggest problem was simply a lack of confidence about scrambling over rocks. Adventurous Husband went on to the top without me.

I thought about that day quite a lot over the years. When we climbed Scafell Pike, there was some scrambling to do, I remember being apprehensive but in a better place for fitness levels and managing it no problem.

AM and AD on Goatfell

Me, mini me and Teddy on our way up Goatfell

Now that children are older, we are trying to encourage them to do some more hill walking with us so we hatched a plan that we would all walk it. We had access to some guide books that recommended that we start the walk at Corrie, a shorter route overall.

On the day, we had nice sunny weather although in some places it was quite windy. Unfortunately Adventurous Daughter said that she did not feel 100%  about just over half way up so they went back down. I carried on with my sister in law and niece Meagan.

Photo of AM at the top of Goatfell

Finally at the top of Goatfell

And we made it! It really wasn’t that hard a scramble after all but it is amazing the difference that the level of fitness makes to confidence. On the way back down, I kept vowing to myself never to get unfit again.

Top of Goatfell

I could almost reach up and touch the clouds; the view from the top of Goatfell

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hiking and open water swimming are two of my favourite mini adventures you can have all the time and are relatively inexpensive. Being close to nature is supposed to be one of the best tonics for our busy plugged in lives so I urge you to try one or both!

Have you had any hiking or swimming adventures to share?

 

Baby, it’s cold outside…and in the water!

With Boxing Day and New Year dips on the radar, it’s time to explore the wonderful world of open water swimming.

I seem to be a fairly rare beast among triathletes because I love swimming. For me it is one of life’s little pleasures when you first get in the water and feel the power of the push off from the pool wall and start to swim.

I mentioned in my last post that I had a back injury in my mid-twenties. I tore a muscle while shifting furniture during one of our house moves. So I had to work my way back to fitness and swimming was part of that. We lived near a swimming pool so I used to head down there 3 times a week and eventually built up to swimming a mile (64 lengths) in around 30 minutes.

I never had any swimming lessons as a child apart from the few lessons at school but I seemed to take to it like a, er, fish to water. I remember, though, that going swimming was my favourite thing to do and I used to pester my sisters to take me and then when I was old enough to go on my own, pester my friends to come with me!

As we all do these days, I took to the internet to research how I could best prepare for my first open water swim as part of Wirral Tri. One of the first companies to appear on my search was called Head to the Hills (now called Swim the Lakes) who organised a half day event training aimed at triathletes and those taking part in open water races. They also offered to do a wetsuit fitting if I signed up to the course. As it was in Ambleside and my sister has a caravan there, my fate was sealed and they soon had my credit card details.

The course itself was excellent and Pete and Andrea’s enthusiasm for their sport was infectious. I was keen to get out to Lake Windermere for the practical part of the course. However, I was in for a nasty shock just as to how cold it was! Although it was mid-May, the air temperature was about 14 degrees and the water temperature was later judged to be about 12 degrees. I later found out that the triathlon rule book states that wetsuits are compulsory when the water temperature is less than 14 degrees and that open water swimming should not take place if it is 11 degrees or less. So far, so cold!

I was fine wading in and even getting the water up to my neck. The problem started when I tried to put my face in the water and found that it was just too cold. All the other swimmers on the course seemed to be fine while I was at the back, hyperventilating, all confidence gone and wondering where my swimming mojo had gone. When I finally got out of the water, I was absolutely freezing. I couldn’t move my hands and that meant I couldn’t open my camper van. I had to put the key fob in my mouth and press the button with my teeth.

It was safe to say that I was now in shock and was seriously wondering how I was going to do this triathlon. I had already set up the Just Giving page; I couldn’t back out now.  The only way to do this was to get back in the saddle as soon as possible. So I did some more research and discovered that Mersey Tri did open water sessions at the Marine Lake in West Kirby, near my home. With a deep breath, I joined and turned up to the sessions. By now it was June and the water was marginally warmer. The first session was still scary and I had salt water to contend with but I emerged thinking that it was going to be OK. I reached a point that I was actually enjoying the open water and genuinely looked forward to getting up at 6am on a Saturday for the 7am swimming sessions, I kid you not!

Liverpool Dock Swim photo

At the finish of the Liverpool Dock Swim. Relieved to have survived the jelly fish!

I also entered a stand alone open water swim in Liverpool docks which took place about 3 weeks before the triathlon. I thought that it would be a good idea to get some experience of open water racing without the complications of transitions, bike and run. It turned out to be a great boost to my confidence, not least because I swam through a load of jellyfish without freaking out!

My top tips will follow in another post but here’s my first tip, it is perfectly natural to freak out in cold water!