Eye of the Tri-Ger: Thorpe Park Triathlon

It was 4:15am when the alarm went off on Sunday.  I ignored it.  The first thing you learn about triathlons is that they start early.  As in, you have to get up in the middle of the god damn night early.  It was the morning of the Thorpe Park Olympic Triathlon, our club champs, and I had decided I wanted to be part of a relay team.  At 4:15 in the morning I couldn’t tell you why.

By 4:38 I realised I absolutely had to get out of bed, throw on my race kit, get myself down to Thorpe Park for the briefing, and assure my teammates I was alive and kicking and ready to race.

The lake was ready and waiting

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I decided pretty late in the day I wanted to be part of the club champs, there were over 100 Chasers signed up and we were co-hosting with the Tri Project, so my FOMO got the better of me.  On the plus side, I figured if I managed to get in a team at this stage, I would be with other people late to the party so I would be in a ‘slower’ team.  Wrong. So very and frighteningly wrong.

When Rachael said she was looking for a cyclist and a runner to be part of a team I jumped at the chance.  The only problem is, Rachael is a very strong swimmer, she’s practically a fish. I tried not to worry about it.  Then Darren decided he wanted to join as the cyclist… I didn’t know how fast Darren was on the bike, but I knew how fast he was at running and given he’s spent the last year or so focusing mainly on the bike, I could only assume he was up there with the best.  Looks like I was the weakest link then.

We named ourselves the Eye of the Tri-Ger (see what we did there?!) and I quietly hoped they weren’t expecting us to win (OK, maybe not so quietly, in fact I was quite audible about it, especially as Darren had actually been in the winning relay team last year).

The swimmers are off

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It was 6:10 when I arrived, a little later than promised but I’ve never been a morning person (which may be why I’ve never got into this tri thing…) and it was heaving with friendly Chaser faces.  I found the team, we went to the race briefing and it was time to cheer on the swimmers.  Everyone was together, because there were so many of us, all Chasers, both solo and teams, were in Wave 1.  The water didn’t look as intimidating as I thought it might but we had been warned there were patches of weeds that could cause panic if you got caught up in them so I was glad I wasn’t in there.

After Rachael set off on the 1500m swim, the nerves kicked in.  There wasn’t anything left to do but hang around, go to the toilet 6 times and panic.  It wasn’t long before the swimmers came in, Rachael was, unsurprisingly, one of the first out, a little distressed from losing both her swim hats but otherwise OK, she had smashed it and Darren was off on the 40k cycle.

Darren and I hanging around in transition and Rachael coming back from the swim

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I still had about an hour to kill.  The swimmers were finished and chilling out whilst the runners were pacing around and wondering who would be back first.  We had a lot of quick cyclists out there so it could be a number of people.  The first was back in under an hour, it was one of our solo triathletes, quickly followed by 2 more.  It was really difficult to tell who was coming in off the bike because everyone was wearing Chaser kit, a helmet and sunnies.

The 4th cyclist came in.  It looked like Darren. Was it Darren?  Oh no, it was Darren, he was in 4th place and we were first in the relays!  After a brief helmet issue, the the timing chip was on my ankle and I was off on the 10k run…in 4th pace…whhhaaaaaa.

As I set off, with just 3 people in front of me, I tried to keep my cool and not panic.  I ran up the grass with cheers behind me and rounded the corner to a path.  It was empty.  How exactly do you set the pace on an empty road when you’re trying to race a 10k without burning out too early but still giving it your all?  I didn’t know.  I just ran.

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It was warm.  The sun was beaming down and bouncing off the ground creating a mugginess that’s unusual for 8:30 in the morning.  There wasn’t a breeze.  I tried to relax and enjoy the epic lead whilst it lasted.  The course was 3 laps so it wasn’t long before I saw the boys in front of me heading back in the opposite direction.  At 1k my watch beeped, I hadn’t started it properly, dammit!

On the switchback I saw Rich Bull from another relay team, he was about 1k behind so I knew he’d overtake me soon.  He did.  He flew past.  As did several more over the first lap.  I was expecting it to feel quite demoralising being overtaken at such speed, it was quite clear I had no business being in this end of the field, but it wasn’t, because I was surrounded by Chasers.

The course twisted round the park and past a few rollercoasters which was fun, or it would have been fun if my lungs weren’t burning and my legs were moving as quickly as I told them to.  Most of the marshalls were Chasers and at about 3k I saw one of my favourite Chasers (and running mentors) Mike.  He gave me a confidence boosting cheer and I was so happy to see him…I don’t think I smiled.

A smiley Mike

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Past a few more rollercaosters was another Chaser gem, Danny, he also gave me a big cheer…I don’t think I smiled.  Before I knew it I was running past the finish line and on lap 2.  By this point the course was busier as more people started the run leg.  I had no idea who was overtaking me and who was still on the first lap although Danny confirmed I was still 2nd woman.

It was still very warm.  On the 3rd lap I simply concentrated on reaching Mike.  He gave me another big cheer.  I still didn’t smile.  Then Danny.  He gave me a cheer.  May have managed a thumbs up.  I then started to speed up thinking the finish was round the corner, but my sense of distance was messed up after starting my watch late.  It went on. And on.  Finally I reached the finish line, a bit of a sweaty mess.

Eye of the Tri-Ger. 3rd place Chaser Relay Team

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I didn’t know what time I’d run but I knew it wasn’t very fast.  It turned out I’d started the run in 4th place and finished in 15th, of the Chasers at least, I’m not sure where we ended up when all the waves were accounted for (sorry guys!).  Only 2 women overtook me though so it could have been worse.

Chaser Domination

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Rachael and Darren found me, we got our medals and ate some cake.  It’s what all good Chasers do.  Despite my fear of letting the team down (completely unfounded fear, no one put any pressure on at all), I had a great time, it was fun to do something a bit different.

Huge thanks to my supportive teammates Rachael and Darren, it was a privilege to race with you, I enjoyed the feeling of being out there in the front for a change! Huge thanks to Mike and Danny, who I genuinely looked forward to seeing on every lap despite my poker face.  And huge thanks to everyone involved in organising such a logistically challenging event.  I may, very possibly, attempt to go solo next year.

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Chaser cakes!

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When Chrissie met the Chasers

Meeting your heroes.  It’s always a risk.  How can they ever live up to your expectations?  You put them on a pedastool and marvel at their achievements, but, through no fault of their own, you may very well come away feeling just a little disappointed.

Chrissie Wellington is one of my heroes but, having met her before, I had no doubt she’d be as inspirational, funny and friendly as ever (she even came to cheer me on at the Rome Marathon….well, she was there…and she cheered!)  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Chrissie is phenomenal.  Not only is she 4 x World Ironman Champion, but she’s won every single one of the 11 Ironmans she’s competed in.

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It didn’t come easy.  Having battled an eating disorder, teammates who were often jealous of her ability, more than a few dodgy hotels the night before competition, wetsuits that made her sink, and numerous falls off the bike (one which left her with 3rd degree burns just 2 weeks before Kona…which she went on to win), she showed the world what it was to be a true champion.  I only wish more people knew about her journey.

Last week, we were lucky enough to have our very own session with Chrissie, I was soooo excited I bounded out of work on the dot, still on my conference call, because I really didn’t want to be late.  Absolutely could not be late for Chrissie….

…err, so I wasn’t late

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One of my favourite things about Chrissie is that she’s very down to earth.  She started by saying she had just come from an event with Prince Philip and had to get changed in a McDonald’s toilet on the way to us!  Apparently we’re much more fun than Prince Philip too 🙂

Growing up in Norfolk, Chrissie always wanted to be a tractor driver when she was little, she loved fancy dress and was always a sporty kid with a passion for swimming.  She went on to tell us about her life at uni where she captained the swim team, but was actually much better at drinking for them than swimming for them (which, if true, she must be one hell of  a drinker!)

When I was little I dressed up as a starfish and then I became a World Champion…

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After uni Chrissie started to take running a bit more seriously and knocked out her first marathon in 3:08, she had a knack for it.  With skills in both swimming and running, it was suggested that she try her hand at triathlon and, after a few sprint and Olympic distances, she became hooked on the activity that would see her become one of the most inspirational women in sport.

It’s important to add that, whilst Chrissie was so good at triathlon, she didn’t have the fancy equipment to go with it.  Far from it, her first road bike had 2 previous owners and her wetsuit was was second hand and didn’t fit, she didn’t care, and I think it’s this attitude that made her into such a strong competitor.

During a secondment in Nepal, Chrissie discovered the joys of mountain biking.  She quickly learned that running wasn’t an option, unless you wanted to get bitten by rabid dogs (which did happen), and swimming was totally off the cards unless you were prepared to be violently ill.   So, she bought a bike called Prem (Nepali for boyfriend) and developed the kind of mental and physical strength you only get from consistently battling sand storms and snow at altitude.

‘Silver Bullet Solution’

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After returning home, getting a coach, and making further improvements in triathlon, Chrissie made the brave decision to turn pro in 2007. No ‘what if’s’.  It wasn’t long before she made the start line of her first Ironman (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run), smashed it, took the win, and qualified for the World Champs in Kona.

Following this, Chrissie Wellington became 4 x World Ironman Champion in Kona, as well as winning every other Ironman distance triathlon she entered, all the while remaining humble and fiercely dedicated to her training.  There was a lot we could learn from her!

Chrissie’s Top Tips

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  • People don’t become a champion, they act like one
  • You have to find your passion, what makes you happy?
  • Take a chance, don’t be afraid of change because if you never try, you’ll never know
  • Juggling balls is all part of the challenge but sport should be a good stress – your training needs to work with your life and other commitments

The Training Plan

  • Have a sensible, realistic training plan, it should be a journey
  • Consistency is key, but be flexible
  • Base your plan around 4 key sessions:
    1. Steady
    2. Strength – eg hills
    3. Race pace
    4. Intervals
  • Quality over quantity
  • Don’t faff, have your equipment clothes and food ready
  • Rest days are important…
  • …as are off seasons, have a break!

Make Marginal Gains

  • Incorporate strength & conditioning
  • Sleep
  • Massage & physio
  • Nutrition & hydration

Your mind in your most powerful weapon, train your brain

  • Train alone, some of the time
  • Remember your goals and motives
  • Use positive words & affirmations, have a mantra
  • Break the session or race into smaller, manageable segments and stay in the moment
  • Test yourself and recall your ability to cope

“Accept that you are not a professional athlete. The aim is to be the best in the context of your life”

We finished the session with a team photo in which Chrissie was more than happy to wear the Chaser vest!

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I came away from Chrissie’s talk feeling pretty inspired about sport again.  Maybe I can get that Boston Qualifier after all, don’t be afraid to take a chance right?  Huge thanks to Chrissie for sharing her top tips, her enthusiasm, encouragement and for simply being herself, you’re our favourite!

They say you shouldn’t meet your heroes.  Don’t listen to what they say.

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When is Enough Enough?

It’s a question I find I’m asking myself more and more.  When is enough enough?  26.2? That always seemed the obvious limit to me but who decided that? Pheidippides? Sure, he would probably say that was enough but he didn’t have a Runners World 16 week training plan or a well rehearsed fuel and hydration strategy…  Millions of people around to world have taken on the grueling 26.2 challenge and succeeded.  So what next?

Some people might say a marathon is too far anyway, ‘running is bad for you’, ‘it’s bad for your knees’, ‘it’s not natural to run that far’, blah blah blah.  What was that sorry?  You seemed to be choking on your cigarette, I couldn’t quite hear you, oh yes, running, it’s bad for me.

Some people already think I’m crazy but I fear they haven’t seen the half of it yet.  I never know when to stop.  I never have, not with anything, sometimes it works to my favour and sometimes it doesn’t.  Already in training for marathon number 4 (and my 2nd this year which is already something I never thought would happen), I’ve started to sets my sights even higher.  Maybe an Ultra next year?  Could I do that?  Why would I do that?  Why would anyone do that?

A triathlon? That’s most definitely in the 2014 plan, mostly because I really can’t find a good enough reason not to.  With a lido down the road and Richmond Park a few miles away as well as a whole group of Chasers to train with, it all seems to fit together quite nicely.  I want to call myself a triathlete.  I don’t even want to be competitive, just to finish (and get some new bling of course but that goes without saying!)

Twitter has opened my eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.  My newsfeed is full of all these fabulous, wonderful, strong, inspiring and quite frankly fit as hell people who are taking on bigger and bigger challenges.  Everyone’s training for this and that…sub 3 hour marathons, sub 20 min 5ks, new PB’s, 50 mile Ultras, their first triathlon, their 47th marathon, Ironmans, Marathon des Sables…the list is endless and every one of these people inspires me in a different way.

I text my brother last week and asked him if he was up for an Ironman in 2015.  He didn’t think I was crazy, he asked me which one!  Could I do an Ironman?  Am I getting carried away?  I know I can run a marathon, I would still have to put the miles in of course but it would be at a much slower pace than my current marathon training.  I can swim.  I can ride a bike.  Sure, not to any kind of standard and I can’t swim 2.4 miles or cycle 112 miles, but I can train.  Can’t I?  I would need to get a wetsuit and, ermm, a bike, but that’s the easy bit.   Maybe I am crazy.  Maybe I would fall at the first hurdle.  Maybe I need to get myself a PlayStation or a Candy Crush addiction and pipe down.  But maybe, just maybe, I could achieve all these things…

So when is enough enough?  I really don’t know but I know I’m not there yet.

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