Late Night Double Bill – Dart 10k and Lakes in a Day Report



For 2015 I had a plan to do a kind of mega triathlon, a long bike, swim and run, with enough time to train for each one. More adventurous than another season of regular races, still switching focus between the three sports. Interspersed with some middle distance racing on the newly acquired TT bike.

I ran the Boston Marathon in April (great city and race, miserable conditions, wanted 3.44, ran 3.48 with cramp for last 3 miles) and felt well set up for the season ahead. However, a training outing for the Coast to Coast in a Day bike ride (Keswick Mountain Festival Triathlon – see “There will be Gore”), turned into a close encounter with the hillside. As Sly Stallone so memorably said in Cliffhanger (1993): “A lot of things fell apart on that mountain that day.”

In my case a smashed bike, broken left hand, cracked ribs and split open left knee. I know I was lucky to get off so lightly, but I challenge any regularly obsessive amateur athlete not to be downhearted as all those months of work disappear in no time at all and you start from scratch the dull, slogging effort of recovering fitness. Trotting round parkrun after six weeks without falling over was a little triumph but then I seemed to be stuck. I was exhausted after 5k, every breath in the pool was a pain, literally and even if I’d had a bike I had no appetite to ride it, less still to try the TT bike in my feeble and nervous condition.

While the road bike was having multiple fractures repaired under Ciaran’s careful oversight, I concentrated on swimming and, gradually, running. Swanage Olympic distance race mid-summer proved that running even 10k off the bike when you have done no cycling is ugly. Otherwise I spent a lot of time in the sea near Lulworth Cove, at Man O’ War Bay and in various pools.IMG_3782

In the process, I met some lovely open water swimmers and my wetsuit became more Black Witch than neoprene.

The goal: the River Dart 10k swim. I had never swum more than 5km at one time, and that in a swimming pool. My estimated swim time was 3 hours 20 minutes but the results from previous years showed that most people took between 2.30 and 2.50. They might all be super-fast swimmers who knew what they were doing but I hoped it meant the tide and current were going to help.

Help I would certainly need. I don’t do cold very well and, as one chilly August day followed another, I was starting to panic more than a little. The water temperature, about 18 by the end of July, was plummeting: 16, 15, 14 degrees. Longest open water swim so far – 45 minutes and frozen blue. A neoprene raid was in order and I just managed to try out excellent Sailfish booties and a Zone3 vest in Hampstead Lido before it was time to go. Ate a lot. Obsessively checked the weather forecast. Slept little.

I was so focused on the cold that when we rolled into Totnes on Sunday morning in glorious September sunshine, I found myself sweltering in layers of thermals and sweatshirts. To catch the tide our swim didn’t set off until 1 pm so there was plenty of time for a leisurely meal by the river before heading down to the start area and joining the neoprene army. Boots and vest on under the suit, I zipped up as late as possible to avoid boiling in the bag but it was a real pleasure to slide into the cool brown river water.

Swimming a long distance is a strange and quite monotonous activity. It’s not hard if the water is calm, which it is for the first few miles; there’s the regular sound of my own breathing; splosh of hand entering water; a slight internal crunch in my neck as I turn my head to breathe. The regular blink of sideways vision as the town peters out and we pass green rushy banks, with scrap-built mermaids at kilometer intervals, warm sunshine on cheek, hand and shoulder, but above all the sensation of being in a large body of water for a long time.

After the first mile comes a series of bends through steep green woods. As I try to keep count of bends and mermaids, I am very surprised to come upon the first feed station: a crowd of hi-viz helpers on a moored raft mid-river, handing out food and drink. Here I realize that, though imperceptible while swimming, there is indeed a current. Firstly, I am at the 4km station already and secondly, as soon as I hang on to the raft my legs drift sideways.

Encouraged, I strike out from the raft enthusiastically. Aargh! Cramp in both legs. No, no, much too soon for that. But through painful experience I have learned to swim out cramp – ankle at a firm right angle, no foot pointing – and it eases. I continue cautiously, a bruised ache in my left calf.…s/2016/03/Dart-10k-map.pdf

The river widens and we cross two tributaries, a daunting expanse of water. By now the crowd of swimmers has thinned out greatly and I am glad to see another red cap here and there. That’s a big difference from a triathlon. You do bump other people a bit to start with but it’s all very polite, everyone giving ground and keeping an eye out rather than swimming over each other like mating eels.

The water is brackish, which sounds unpleasant but isn’t – slightly salty from the sea tide. There are cold patches but, with the sun blazing and my extra neoprene, I am a comfortable temperature, which is a huge relief. I treat the second raft (7km) with more respect, only stopping for a quick swig of lucozade to wet my whistle. I struggle with the idea of eating while swimming – nursery rules about not swimming for an hour after eating are hard-wired into me.

Another wide bend and a lot of boats moored. It’s hard to see where we are heading, I’m struggling to recall the map and the paddle boarders don’t seem to know any better. A shoal of us take a very wide corner when we should go straight on and, as the chop slaps into my face whichever way I breathe, my left shoulder starts to hurt like hell on each recovery. I adjust my stroke, even swim one-armed for a short while. And then, just as I’m thinking this has stopped being fun, I see bright flapping flags and an ant-trail of neoprene figures on the shore, and stand up dizzily in the muddy shallows.

My husband is there to meet me and I feel immensely happy and relieved. I had privately imagined getting too cold or exhausted to continue, unbearable cramp, drowning even, which all seems ridiculously melodramatic in the afternoon sunshine – but I’ve made it, in only two and a half hours, thanks to the current. And here’s another strange thing, no real tiredness. As soon as I stop lifting my left shoulder it stops hurting. No sweat, no aching muscles, no gasping for breath. The sun shines on Dittisham Green and all is right with the world.

Swim done, it’s time to focus on the final challenge, the Lakes in a Day 50 mile ultra run. Again, this is absurdly beyond me: I have run a few trail marathons but never further than 27 miles and never in such extreme territory. But a woman’s reach should exceed her grasp, or what’s a Heaven for?

The plan had been to maintain my Spring marathon fitness with 10ks, half marathons and middle distance tris and add in a few longer runs. As it was I had managed a couple of slow 10ks and no run over 20k since the accident in May. Happily, although my knee is a little tight from the scarring, there is no structural damage. I took advice from Jo Carritt at Everyday Training about what to do with the month left and she said: Walk plenty, and run down hill. So I did.

Some people thrive on the unknown. Not me. Another glorious September weekend took me up to the Lakes again, where I did the second 8 miles of the route alone on Saturday and joined an organised recce of the first 10 miles on Sunday morning. I was a bit alarmed that even people anxious enough to come on a recce had far more experience than me. And, after struggling up boggy hills, down heathery ones, not quite understanding how to take a bearing (I lied, Kev), and clambering down vertiginous Halls Fell Ridge through the clag (Lake District for cloud), I was not at all sure that another 40 miles would be on the cards.

Happily this was not to be a solo venture as I had lured Lotte, Mauricio (both Alpine ultra veterans), Kevin (several ultras) and Martyn (whippet speedy though injured) into joining me. We shared a certain amount of collective anxiety and I felt my role was to be reassuring: I’m going to do it and you’re all better than me, so what is there to worry about? Or some equally dodgy logic. Manically prepped maps, ran down more hills and walked up them. Borrowed Naomi’s GPS and brilliant Salomon backpack. Ate a lot. Obsessively checked the weather forecast. Slept little.

We met at Euston for the train ride to our cottage at Grange-Over-Sands, a mile and a half from race base. That doesn’t sound like much but how to get to registration on Friday night, without wearing ourselves out? How to get to race base in time for the 5.45 a.m. coach to the start? When we realised there was quite a substantial hill involved too, we got very excited about Tony’s Taxis, the one man band providing all transport options in GOS on a Friday night. But Tony was quite clear that he wasn’t interested in a 4.30 a.m. pick-up so there was nothing for it but to shoulder our backpacks and walk it.

A last cup of tea and onto the coach, trying to not to be over-awed by the sinewy bare legs and knowhow on display. A bad moment when I realised I had left all my carefully marked up maps at race base, as I was trying to convince Lotte that she couldn’t get lost with me around! But in truth everything I could know was in my head and it turned out I didn’t miss them.

So, as dawn turns to day, a nice one too by the look of it, we set off from Caldbeck village at an undramatic trot on tarmac and tracks through the heather – although the front runners are soon far ahead up the hillside. The first section is mostly an open route, any way you like as long as you reach the top of Blencathra. From the recce I know there are a couple of tracks, not easy to find but significantly faster than wading through knee high heather or over boggy tussocks and spongy moss. By this means I catch up with the much speedier Lotte. Martyn comes with me and we all reach the top of the ridge together. Along the shoulder of Blencathra and we come to Halls Fell Ridge, a dinosaur spine of rock and scree with unforgiving drops to either side. Second time around, and in ever-brightening sunshine, it’s less terrifying but still awesome. The view across the valley is magnificent too, though tempered by the knowledge that our route is up those majestic hills.

Photo: Ian Corless


Into Threlkeld village and the first aid station. Tea, cakes, smiling volunteers. Lotte and I are keen to keep moving and impatiently leave Martyn faffing with his bottles. No sign of Mauricio and Kevin at this point though they aren’t far behind. We cross under a main road and along a disused railway line, one of the few points where actual steady running is a possibility, then start climbing again, joined by Martyn. The hill rises steadily then dramatically, as steep as a hill can be without being a cliff. I zigzag stolidly across the straight up path, falling into a silently agreed pattern with another lady. Behind me I can hear Martyn suffering, which of course makes me feel much better. Lotte and I make it to the top, after a cruel false summit, and again without a word spoken, leave Martyn behind.

I keep saying “Lotte and I”, as if we are a partnership, but at this point I know that I have no business running with Lotte: she is much younger, faster, and more experienced. She goes way faster than me downhill and I laboriously catch up on the ups – so I am probably blowing myself up by trying to stick with her. And the elastic between us is long, thin and easily snapped as we run along the top from White Pike towards Helvellyn, a series of ups and downs like a chain link fence where the posts are trig points on each fell. The weather is simply astonishing, bright sunshine, slight haze, no wind. I have never been on top of a Lake District hill with no wind. Never ever. Reaching the top of Helvellyn feels like a major achievement and we stop for a moment to snap a selfie and savour the pleasure, knowing there is much more to come.
Above GrizedaleAnd some of that more is soon awesomely revealed. Far below us the slate blue water of Grizedale Tarn and rearing up on the far side, a near-vertical climb up the shoulder of Fairfield. In order to get up we have first to go down Dollywaggon Pike, stopping to refill bottles from the tarn and then climbing up a black shale path that feels like a lost route into Mordor. There are plenty of others around us and spirits are high, if with a touch of hysteria in the laughter. What are we all doing? I give some Nuun tablets to Paul, who is suffering with cramp, and we press on, eager for the downhill to Ambleside and the halfway point.

Somehow I thought that after Fairfield there was a very long descent but we seem to go on doing ups and downs for ages, on hard-to-run stony, boggy terrain, till finally we start descending properly, only to find we are scrambling down sheer rocks with both hands and bottoms. This descent lasts forever and then twice as long again. We can see Ambleside, all whitewashed cottages and quaint tea shops, but it never comes any closer. I begin to obsess about my fresh shoes waiting in a bag at Ambleside. If I can only change my shoes everything will be alright, my toes will stop hurting, I will be able to talk and smile again. At last the ground changes from tumbling rocks to stony tracks and I hobble behind Lotte into the tourist-filled streets, feeling as though we have emerged from the jungle after many weeks.

The bliss of changing shoes and socks is everything I dreamed of. Gobble down slices of pizza – already I never want to eat another sweet thing in my life – refill our bottles and set off briskly. After two hundred yards I realize I have left my Garmin footpod on the floor in the shoe change-over and turn back for it, Lotte being heroically patient. Then on, out of town on small roads and pretty bike trails through beech woods, golden in the evening light. After what we have just done this seems unfeasibly easy going but of course it can’t last. Once again we start to climb, Claife Heights, and on such rough stony trails that we are grateful not to be doing them in the dark. Now and again another runner comes by or we to and fro with them, meeting Paul, Jen, Charlotte, Charlie and various others from earlier in the day. The light gradually fades on this beautiful day. I offer to let Lotte go on without me and she does the same.

Quite suddenly we run under trees and it’s so dark that we need our head torches on so as not to trip on the stones. Lake District stony paths are the stoniest I’ve ever encountered. Not content with awkward big-step stones, little jar-your-toe stones and loose, slithery twist-an-ankle stones there are also thin flat stones set on edge, uncomfortable to step on, just high enough to catch the tired trailing foot. They are evil and their evil is only truly revealed by the circle of light from a head torch.

First Lotte and then I have bad patches somewhere in these long miles. The circle of light becomes disorientating, it grows incredibly hard to eat anything or to keep it down if you do, the darkness robs us of any sense of progress or context, no idea what’s beyond the torch beam let alone around the next corner. Only more bloody stones. My borrowed Garmin GPS, which I don’t really know how to use, constantly beeps to say I have stopped then beeps again to tell me I’ve started. It’s not only infuriating but demoralizing too – yes, I do know how slowly we are moving, thank you, how our earlier, optimistic, daylight estimates of finishing are sliding horribly – and Lotte’s rage is remarkably restrained. I would gladly throw it away but it isn’t mine and anyway it may be our only way home. I have by now withdrawn the offer to let Lotte go on without me, which is just as well or I might still be out there.

Thankfully, although the organisers have told us there won’t be route marking and we must rely on our maps, they have shown mercy and the tricky navigation on multiple trails through the woods and down the side of Lake Windermere in the dark is pretty well marked with reflective arrows. The lake, silky black and quiet, is a reassuring navigation aid for a good while, although the path alongside it adds gnarly twisting tree roots and sudden boggy patches into the diet of stones and more stones. We join a group of runners at this point, which is great as more torches improves visibility generally and relieves the sense of being in a tunnel. But one of our party is obsessed with how near we are to the next aid station and although we know he’s wrong and it’s much further than he keeps saying, it’s hard not to raise our hopes a little. We leave the Lake and head up hill again, meeting Paul the formerly-cramped, who kindly leads the way up a very tough stretch of steep paths with deep mud added to the usual stone mix. At one point we find ourselves on the wrong side of a fence and have to scramble over it to get back to the Lake – the only time we are lost all day.

When it seems we will never reach the last aid station, we finally get a hint of tarmac and there it is, the yellow glow of Finsthwaite Village Hall, with the best soup I have ever tasted and some very kindly helpers. Once we have eaten some warm food and got our heads back together we realise that there are others who have done what we’ve just done all on their own – and have been nearly broken by it. Young Eric is contemplating getting a lift to the finish, now only 12 kilometres away, but we persuade him that we can all make it together. We team up with another guy and set off at a weary little trot, hoping the last few miles will be kinder. After a mile or so we pick up speed a little, inspired by the thought that if we finish near midnight we will be able to get a taxi back to our cottage. Suddenly this is the most important goal of the whole day so we leave the boys to it and press on.

We catch up with some former companions, Charlotte and Charlie, who were suffering at Grizedale but now seem disconcertingly spry. We tag along with them for a while, through bracken, grass, mud, fields, but gradually we drift back. I am sorry to lose the extra light but, in the grip of Ultra psychosis, I found myself hating their cheerful chatter and the spring in bloody Charlie’s step. I am sure he was holding the gates for me in a patronizing “poor old thing” way and I wish he wasn’t right! On our own again we rely on the glimmer from the next reflecting arrow, having given up any pretence of map reading. We see one ahead and go through a kissing gate into a field. Suddenly the “arrow” moves and there’s a huge animal thudding towards us in the dark: an inquisitive horse, wondering what we are doing in its field. We rapidly exit the field then find it is the right way after all, slightly hysterical by now.

A series of five foot high walls with stone steps provide an interesting challenge to leaden cramping legs and jumping eighteen inches to the ground is risky. For a while we have been heading towards the sulphurous orange glow of a big town –Morecambe Bay across the estuary – but now, thrillingly, tantalizingly close, we see the street lamps of our final destination, Cartmel. A village sign confirms it and then we find ourselves by a pub and see a taxi ahead. With tremendous presence of mind Lotte pounces on it and extracts a card and the promise of a pick up – our vision of glory is almost achieved! There follow three extraordinarily long kilometres of tarmac before we round a last bend and put in a final trot over the finish line. It is done. We hug. Our unlikely team has made it and I feel so grateful to Lotte for putting up with the beeping Garmin and my slow descents, and amazed and delighted to have reached the finish at the better end of my estimate – 16 hours, 29 minutes.

The boys arrive back at the cottage an hour or so behind us, we eat strange meals scavenged from the local convenience store and crawl into our beds for a few hours of sleep before creaking our way home. An amazing adventure.

[Shortly after completing this report I fractured my ankle on a training run. I am recovering well, if a little more lumpy, slow and cautious. My sympathy and admiration for anyone who has to deal with chronic illness and injury, that really is heroic.]

If you feel inspired:

Coast to Coast Cycle 25th June 2016

Dart 10K       3rd September 2016

Lakes in a Day   8th October 2016



Race report: Long Course World Championships, Belfort, France, 1st June, 2013



06:13:52 4th AG

I’m lying in the medical tent with a drip in my arm and meltdown threatening both ends. For this reason I’m grateful that I am at present the only patient in the tent but it does prove how far out of my depth I’ve just been. How the heck did this happen? Short answer:  Roz McGinty.

Roz - Malsaucy: too cold to swim
Roz – Malsaucy: too cold to swim

Preamble: She lured me in, Your Honour, by pointing out the Long Course format – 4km swim, 120km bike, 30km run – and how this would suit someone who likes swimming a lot more than running, and how much fun it would all be, with that winning smile and you-can-trust-me-I’m-a-nurse manner. Anyone who has ever been persuaded into some mad feat of endurance by Roz, and we are legion, will know what I mean. And I thought: Eastern France in June, should be warm but not too hot, nice-looking lake, the French know about cycle courses, a fun weekend with Roz and as close to an Ironman as I ever need to go, sounds good.

So we applied, qualified for Team GB (in my case on my half distance results because I have never done a long distance race) and signed up, along with Kris Boyes (racing – brilliantly of course – for Denmark) and Alex Thompson (former Tri Londoner, now living the good life in Somerset with Jo and Steve). And then I more or less forgot about it, consumed with prep for the London Marathon and mountains of work.

But suddenly the marathon was done and Belfort loomed. A flurry of hotel and flight booking and it was also inescapable. I checked that nice 120km bike course and discovered to my horror there was a mountain involved with proper hairpin bends on the ascent and descent, not to mention quite a few bumps along the way there and back. Never ever been up or down a mountain, in fact I had done almost no cycling thanks to our great British winter. And when I did venture round Regents Park I was dropped like a stone before the words Let’s go! had turned to steamy breath. Oops. What to do? Well, obviously, when the athlete is beyond redemption, spend money on the bike. Those nice chaps at Pretorius Bikes got my brakes working, gave me back my missing gears (seized rear mech) and added a couple more to help me up the hill. And Adam at Bike Science/Velosport made sure I was sitting in the best place on it. With no more excuses I did a 100 mile hilly sportive and convinced myself that I could climb hills, slowly but surely and so would probably make it up. Down was another matter. I alternated nightmare visions of flying off a precipice or walking shamefully down the whole damn thing: just couldn’t decide which was worse.

Meanwhile got my swimming into quite good shape, at least 3 swims a week and several open water sessions, and let the running jog along, trusting that my marathon training would be enough to get by on. Hindsight is for history.

Race day now fast approaching and the weather just gets colder and colder. In France, where they despise the English for talking about the weather, they are writing newspaper articles about the mauvais temps and the worst May on record. There’s snow at the top of the mountain and word starts leaking out that the swim may be shortened to 3k or 1.5k. Or even cancelled. I pack my wetsuit, hoping and praying for some warmth to save my swim and my chances.

Pre-race: Roz and I meet at City Airport, lugging our matching bike boxes and husbands – who are both, I assume, profoundly grateful to discover that the other one is not some triathlete-loving freak but quite a decent bloke, since they are going to be thrown into each other’s company quite a bit over the next few days.

Ballon d'Alsace
Ballon d’Alsace

Several hours and many deviations later, we are standing at the top of the Ballon d”Alsace, the rather unlikely name of the dreaded mountain, with a ski lift dangling by our heads. No snow, in fact it’s quite a pleasant afternoon, if a little chilly, so we assemble our bikes, put on a few layers and set off to recce the descent. And, as if by magic, my rictus grin of terror becomes a smile of joy, as my bike tells me this is what it was built to do and to trust it to go round the corners and spin down the traverses in between. By halfway down, where the hairpins turn to swooping curves, I am giddy with excitement and my inner ten year old has burst to the surface, playing dares with the boys not to touch our brakes on Milton Hill. We spin down to the lower levels and catch up with our boys in a village after a bit of posing for the video camera. Roz has not had quite the same experience though – the TT bike being distinctly unimpressed with having to give up its straight-line superspeed for twitching round sharp corners. So, with that, and confirmation that the race is now to be long course duathlon format of 10k/87k/20k, we have some thinking to do for Saturday. Mostly about what to wear. Not about my fear of duathlons.

On Friday it rains hard, all day. The Vosges mountains are hidden in thick cloud, the little expo is a mudbath and our bikes sit forlornly draped in bin bags waiting for the morrow. Nothing is as the team briefing would have it and there is no way to tell where any of the ins and outs of transition are. The French all clocked off at 5pm and the ITU officials are struggling to finish the set up. Already challenged by this new idea of having to put different stuff in different bags I am further thrown by not leaving our bags as instructed. Another 12 hours of twitching about what to wear. The team gathers for dinner, to marvel at Alex’s Candide-like voyage through life and laugh at Roz trying to order butter with her bread. Our hotel, though on paper a workaday motorway pitstop, is surprisingly pleasant, with good food much appreciated by us and the other triathletes staying there – and the French ladies’ handball team, in town for their big match. But when we all descend like locusts at six the next morning the kitchen is rather taken by surprise and there is a scary bread and croissant crisis.

Enfin, Race Day: Good news, it’s not raining. It’s not warm or sunny either but it’s not raining and we’ll take that. Finally decide on thermal top under GB tri suit, with two bike jackets, arm warmers, two hats, two sets of gloves in my bike bag: it’s going to be like a jumble sale in T1. The boys drop us and our bags and set off to be the mountain photographers for Team GB – yes, it’s that kind of big-spending operation.

Roz and I get set up, warm up, pay a nature visit to the woods, chat to a few other GB and NZ ladies. I get my welcome rush of pre-race euphoria and line up with the other two GB ladies 50-54, Jeannie and Judith. We are in the last wave, a minute or so behind Roz and the other young ladies and just in front of the Open competitors.

Warned that the run course is narrow and prone to bottle necks and with the thought of being trampled under foot by eager Open men, I decide to go with the absurdly fast pace of the opening km and then calm it down from there. My HR stays pretty high even though I feel very comfortable running at between my 10k and half marathon pace. There’s a small hill about 2km in and a bigger one 4km in, then plenty of downhill. It’s around the lake and local farm lanes and tracks, and though I know I won’t enjoy these hills later they’re fun now. I see Jeannie heading off at speed ahead but I looked her up and know she’s a multi-Ironperson and a faster runner than me. Just have to hope she didn’t play out with the boys or brought the wrong bike.

Roz and I hit T1 more or less together and get our clothes on and change shoes, leaving the muddy run shoes by our bikes. Squelch out to the road and head off through a string of little villages and gradually start to climb into the scenic foothills. It’s still not raining and I feel quite warm. My plan, if it can be called such, is to ride as if there were no mountain and no first 10k run and treat it as a half distance race from this point on. Yes, it’s true, I know nothing… But for now I enjoy myself, toing and froing with a French lady called Martine who is better at going up hill but slower at coming down. My Garmin has gone mad and after telling me for a while I am doing 209kph has packed in for the ride, which is liberating. Roz comes by but I come back past her and maybe that gives me a bit of a kick as I push on, chasing Martine up the hills towards the Ballon and really enjoying all the villagers Allez!Allez!-ing along the way. I wave and cheer them and they give back in spades. Honestly I don’t care too much about the race right now, this is just so much fun.

We reach Sewen, which is the start of the 13km ascent and I soon see Andy and Martin on a crag, looking like pros and snapping away. Give them a big wave then settle into the bends and the hill. It’s rarely very steep but it goes on for a long time.

Ascending the Ballon
Ascending the Ballon

Still I am lucky to be a light person on a road bike and I go past plenty of TT men who had the better of me down in the lowlands. By the time we reach the top we are shrouded in thick cloud and visibility is down to bugger all. So glad we did that recce as you can’t even see the next hairpin. My glasses are blurry with damp but I think it will be worse if I take them off so I perch them Granny style on my nose to look over but still try to shelter my eyes from the wind. There’s one ambulance at the top loading up and another scraping somebody off the tarmac three bends down: pay attention. Halfway down I overtake my friendly rival Martine and try to take as much advantage of the downhill as possible but she still catches me before the end of the ride. My left calf is cramping spasmodically and whatever muscles join my top half to my bottom half are throbbing like Louis’ Armstrong’s rhythm section but cycling steadily is fine and the mountain is just a pleasant memory.

Back to the lakeside, rack bike, clomp to the bag racks and change tent. I take my shoes off gingerly to avoid cramp and then, maybe rashly, peel off the thermal top as I feel pretty warm already and I always get hot running. I think I see Jeannie just ahead and feel very encouraged (must have been wrong but there’s a few over-optimistically blonde ladies in my age group:  yes we are in denial, why do you think we are doing this?) Just 20k to go now, less than half a marathon, what could possibly go wrong?

And the first 10k goes right according to plan. My timing is such that I meet a great rush of GB men coming by on their second lap so we give each other mutual encouragement – more necessary to me than them I guess. On the first hill I meet Martine again, only now she has teamed with a young Frenchman who appears to be chivalrously running with her. Hmm, I can’t see any of my GB teammates doing that, they are in it to win it. Just as on the bike I am behind on the up hills and ahead going down. After the big hill at 4km I decide Martine et son ami are too dangerous to dice with and put in a big effort to get some distance. We come back to the start, set off again and when we hit an out and back section I can see I have about a minute on her (and she’s alone). But now those middle muscle strings are all out of tune and my gut has had enough of high speed eating and drinking and being shaken about. The cramp is ever present in my left leg and incipient in both feet. I have to run on my heels to stop my legs seizing up – not ideal in shoes with no heels. The only thing that keeps me going now is the urge not to get caught, by Martine mostly, but also knowing that Roz will be making steady inroads on the run after the handicap of her TT bike. I am so slow that I am starting to get cold and though the sound of the finish line is tantalisingly close, we have to loop away and then back again. Finally round the corner and onto the finish, across some muddy grass – don’t fall down or cramp now – get a flag from a GB spectator, last few yards and across the line.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Aftermath: Stumble my way into a tent, full of men drinking lager – have I barged a beer festival by mistake? I escape and I think meet Roz now (it’s all a bit blurry). I’m really cold. Get the dry clothes bag and try to get changed in the (cold) shower room. Luckily Roz is helping me or I might just stop here but with much groaning and huffing I get dressed. Outside again and Martin is telling me firmly to sit down, so I do. Uh oh I will never get up, I think – but then some nice men come along with a stretcher. Thank God, I don’t have to stand up. I lie there and get strapped in, feeling a bit guilty that I am getting a free ride to wherever they’re taking me. Another tent, no beer drinking men, good. A sweet child in ambulance kit bends over me, asking what’s wrong? Ask Roz, I should tell him, she never said it would be a duathlon. But now we are into blood pressure (none), drips (two), blankets (three), a foil wrap and a heater to warm me back up. I understand the true meaning of gutted. My darling husband looks after me well beyond the call even of marital duty, especially after sitting all day on a freezing mountain photographing anonymous obsessives. Meanwhile, Roz and Martin, not only saintly and funny but also eminently resourceful and practical, extricate my bike from the “secure” transition and load everything up while I get put back together. Roz doesn’t properly eat or rest for hours after her race because of me but is still all smiles as we finally get into the car to take us back to the Hotel Charme and a very necessary meal with the lads.

I am delighted to find that my efforts were good enough for 4th in my age group, a minute ahead of Martine but over ten behind Jeannie who got the bronze medal, so even if the wheels hadn’t come off I don’t think I could have improved on my position. Frankly, in a duathlon, this is nothing short of a miracle!

And after two days of recovery, ibuprofen and yoga I’m beginning to feel human again.

Many thanks to Martin, Roz, Alex, Andy and Kris for making this a wonderful trip.

Team Tri London/Belfort
Team Tri London/Belfort

I’m glad to have reached my edge but don’t think I need to go there again. Mountains on the other hand…

Olivia, June 2013

Open Adventure 5

For any who don’t know an adventure race is a mix of action and orienteering. You get a map at the start and a set time, in this case 5 hours, to get about on by MTB and running to find and dib as many spots as possible. It can be done as a solo or paired effort. The harder a dib spot is to reach the more it scores. Most points wins, points docked for every minute over the 5 hours. As much effort as you want to put in, or not. Some people hurtle round, others take it more sociably.

Keirnan bravely joined me to form a mixed pair and we set off in his nice warm car for a fun day out on the Surrey Hills above Dorking (familiar to those who enjoyed the MTB jaunt a few weeks back) in spite of a forecast of heavy rain all day. I don’t think I quite promised Keirnan it would be a picnic but I’m sure I didn’t suggest it would be a polar expedition!

We decided to MTB first and set off in moderate rain and good spirits, heightened by doing one of the purpose-built MTB runs early on and collecting a load of points. The skill is to plot a looped course for maximum efficiency and we did our best on this and also to go up the roads and down the trails.

The rain got heavier, the trails slippier, our hands and feet more like ice blocks but we were still going strong. Then Keirnan’s brakes started to give up on him which meant he had to coast/run/slither down the hills – which he did amazingly cheerfully. On the home stretch he also got a puncture so now he was running all the time – in bike gear and pushing his MTB. Back at transition – a section of forest track so designated, nothing fancy about these races – we stripped off our sodden bike gear and gratefully put on dry socks and running shoes. I was shivering so much I couldn’t hold the running map still enough to look at it but Keirnan had a steady hand and we looked forward to getting warmer on the run.

By now the trails had turned into streams so the dry sock effect didn’t last long and the going was treacherous. Keirnan wiped out at one point but shook himself and carried on regardless. However, as we crossed a piece of open country he pointed out that the rain had turned rather more solid. Sleet! The most evocative word in the bad weather lexicon. And after another ten minutes it was snowing, quite hard, the flakes whirling round in every direction before melting into the muddy streams around our ankles. We had definitely gone beyond eccentric by this point… As everyone picks their own route we kept meeting people going the same way or the opposite way and then diverging again. We all grinned at each other with mud-splattered, snow-blown complicity: you too, hah!

The time was getting on and we set off for a welcome return to transition and only a 4km down hill bike ride (hmm, Keirnan’s bike – how is that going to work?) between us and the base with its glowing promise of warm food and clothes. But at that crucial point our navigation skills, which had been pretty good up to now, deserted us (or rather me). Nothing to do with frozen brains of course but we kept heading South when we should be have been going East.

Finally we found a road and headed back to transition – not quite last but nearly so. And half an hour over time, so all those hard won points were taken away again – it’s a cruel game. Something like 340 minus 310! Then poor Keirnan had to wait while I cycled back and fetched the car. And I couldn’t drive the car till my hands had thawed. When I got back I was glad to find him not quite hypothermic and wrapped in one of the race official’s hi-tech ski jackets. Back to base for those warm clothes and food and a very cosy drive back to London. I have never been more grateful that we didn’t take the train.

Huge thanks and admiration to Keirnan who was incredibly game, stalwart, uncomplaining and all round heroic. Next time we’ll get back inside the cut-off, I promise. What do you mean there won’t be a next time?