This is Not What Triathlon is About

Last Sunday morning, I set off with my bestest bud into East London to take part in the AJ Bell London Triathlon. I had entered a while ago, and was pleased to find out after finishing Blenheim Palace Triathlon, that the medals would literally fit together, as they had been organised by the same people. I had entered the sprint distance (750m swim, 20km bike, 5km run).

Getting there, I must say was absolutely fine the entire way into London, and we were even pleased to spot some signs to event parking, which disappeared without a trace every time you got near to the venue, resulting in us driving around it in circles for quite some time – not impressed! Parking was also a little on the pricey side (£20!), but I wouldn’t have been able to transport my bike on any of the nearby tube trains, so we had settled to drive.

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Sprint distance full course map

The race is set up at the ExCel centre, which is an exhibition centre (on the other side of London, for us) next to the Royal Victoria Docks. The swim, therefore would be in the Thames, the bike ride would be 2 laps on the other side of the centre, and the run another 2 laps next to the river. On a map, and set out next to the standard distance race, it looked to be a sight-seeing tour to Westminster at a close glance.

It was mad chaos when we got inside the exhibition centre. Races had been on all weekend, with 3 different distances – super sprint, sprint and olympic – meaning that there were several different wave times and a lot of bodies rushing around everywhere. I managed to locate the timing chip collection point and headed into transition (quite large!) to set myself up for the race.

I was racked up and ready to go, having familiarised myself with the ins and outs of transition and my bike position as best I could with a half-filled rack. After a few moments of time spent cheering in some other competitors from another wave, and a race briefing… It was time for the start!

 

The water was colder than I have been training in, but not as cold as it had been at the start of the season, meaning I was strangely grateful for those training sessions in 10-11°C lakes! The swim was one lap around the course, which to my delight was marked with large pig-shaped buoys. The water was salty and choppy. I have to say, as a person who enjoys swimming, and especially open water swimming, that I hated every second of the swim.

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Swimming with the piggies

During the whole race, there was a strong westerly wind that was probably an un-noticed helping hand heading east to west, however going into it was a struggle. In the water, you spent most of time swimming into it, and the waves were huge. They crashed over your head when you were trying to breathe, and my friend who was spectating said she had seen several of the girls in my wave get pulled out onto the boats because it was too much.

I was slightly pleased, although mostly grumpy, when I got out of the Thames and discovered that I had done the swim section in a little over 16 minutes, which considering I had struggled, I thought was good. I did have a little gripe that if the water had been more still, I may have broken that elusive 15 minute swim barrier, but I can always try in better conditions for it another time!

T1 was a little slower than hoped for two reasons. I was met at the swim exit with a strange prospect – in the briefing, they had asked us to remove our wetsuits almost as soon as we got out of water, and put them in these large carrier bags they had provided. I can only assume to keep the floor dry inside? There was promise of wetsuit removing helpers there, but I saw no one. Having run around with my wetsuit in a bag, I encountered the bigger obstacle, I couldn’t spot my bike straight away again. I luckily found it not too long after, kicking myself. I appear to have a problem with large transition areas!

Eager to make some time up from the start of the race, I shot out on the bike. The route, I have to say, was not very exciting at all. The Olympic distance route was the one that took you out into Westminster, however the turn for the Sprint distance was much earlier at Leamouth, just going up and down the A13. Again, that strong wind struck. I felt like a god going east to west, and then when I went back the other way, I was struck head on with a gust so powerful, I think if I stopped pedalling downhill, the bike would have just ground to a halt.

I powered on with it though, and managed to complete that section in 44:44, with some amazing support from my friend Katie, who had made me the most magnificent sign to cheer me on. She had positioned herself in a brilliant point – at the top of a hill I was climbing into a headwind, and had bribed the nearby marshals with sweets to cheer for me by name. That was a huge boost for me.

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Post-race, displaying my amazing sign, in costume of course!

T2 was a lot smoother, and I used the opportunity coming out of transition (it was a bit of a long road out) to slurp up an energy gel. The run again, I have to say, was not a very interesting route. It was nice to run next to the river a little bit, but after 0.6 miles I found myself at the turning point, concerned that it was only a two lap race. Was it going to be short? The run makes its way uphill back into the ExCel, and from there, you complete approx. half a mile inside, before heading back out. The run was done in 26:49, which I was pretty pleased with.

The finish is along a red carpet down a finish tunnel, and I soaked up the glory as much as I could. Fairly impressed with my total finish time of 01:37:43, and extremely pleased with the incredible support of my friend, who I would not have achieved this time in, I made use of the finish area.

You receive your medal and some water after the line, and have your photo taken. There were 2 igloos to go in after – the first where you could look up your times on the course, but I had my Garmin so went straight through. I received some recovery gels in the second one, and then utilised the stretching area they had laid out. It was great – there were yoga mats, foam rollers, and stretch suggestion boards. I discovered here that at some point in the day, and not to my knowledge before the race, that I had cut my foot and there was blood in my sock. I took my free pint of beer from outside the tent, found my friend and located the amazing volunteers in the medical tent, who cleaned my cut out, since I was unsure whether it had been exposed to the Thames.

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The two medals together in all their glory!

 

In summary, the medal was nice and I enjoyed the novelty of the two medals going together, however, I really felt like this was a triathlon for the sake of organising one. There are so many triathlons around the country and the world set in beautiful locations, and this was not one of them. It had no interesting qualities, and lacked a certain atmosphere that you get at any other triathlon I have entered. It seemed to me like there ‘had’ to be a London Triathlon, the docks seemed like a good enough place to do it in, and that was that. The course wasn’t well thought out to be interesting or fun, and it wasn’t for me. Box ticked, but I will not be returning to this race, I don’t think, and I completely agree with what a friend had mentioned to them: this is not what triathlon is about!

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

 

Sprinting to the Olympics

Unfortunately, the title of this isn’t my announcement that I have a place in Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, or that I have qualified for the World Championships in Rotterdam, but maybe one day! I have in fact combined my first 2 triathlons of the season into one post, as they fell within 2 weeks of each other. As the title suggests, the events were different distances – Sprint and Olympic.

Race 1: Blenheim Palace Triathlon – Sprint Distance

The stunning setting of Blenheim Palace is a great way to set off the season. Covering a weekend, there are various short distances you can sign up for: Super Sprint (400m, 13km, 3km), Sprint (750m, 20km, 5.8km), a team relay, and a ‘Weekend Warrior’ challenge where participants attempt to complete as many sprint distance triathlons as they can over the entire weekend. The grounds offer a swim in the Great Lake, a cycle following a wider loop of the Great Lake, and finishing with a run round the outside of the Queen Pool.

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View of lake, bike out, transition and some of the course

Race packs were sent out a few weeks before the race, and entry to the grounds was discounted for spectators by a considerable amount. My boyfriend was kind enough to deliver me to the race, and spectate. We met with my friend, who had brought her team of supporters with her, also. The Palace is an amazing venue to host this event, and it certainly was made to feel like a big thing to be a part of.

Transition is a royal affair, here. The Palace courtyard was covered in a huge red mat, or carpet if you will, and a ridiculous amount of bikes were racked up – row upon row of tightly crammed push bikes of all shapes and sizes lined up with one purpose: to race.

There were loads of stalls around with the latest gear, charities including the main event charity Bloodwise, and even a stall with some freebies courtesy of Science in Sport. Lots of gels and recovery powders to stock up on.

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My wave jumping into the lake

The race starts with a briefing just behind the pontoon in the lake, a good 10 minute walk from transition. Here we received our green swim caps, and a run through of what to expect. In the background, you could see the mighty Weekend Warrior triathletes coming round for another triathlon, and the total racking up on a big board. It was very inspiring to watch. Then, a jump into the lake, a paddle to the start line and it was time to go.

I was actually really pleased with the swim section. Previously, I have found the mass starts quite stressful and panicked a little, almost forgetting how to swim, which is always silly, in hindsight. After a lot more practise this year, getting used to swimming close to other people, and although I didn’t necessarily practise swimming in a group, I just felt more confident in the whole affair. I completed it in 15:53, a time I was pleased with, and even got right in the mix, surrounded by lots of swimmers most of the way through. Box ticked!

T1 (Transition 1 from swim to bike) was where it all went wrong. I knew this wasn’t a PB course by any stretch – it’s a hilly route, the bike course, I was told, was tough for handling, and the transition runs were long and tough. I had heard others speak of the T1 run, which was a 400-600m uphill climb straight out of the lake, and up to the palace. I survived, just about, found my row in transition, and then must have run up and down past my bike a couple of times, because I just couldn’t spot it! It is against the rules to put a flag or anything up, and I just went bike blind – I could not see wood for trees. After a minute or so panicking, I located my bike, and tried to finish transition as quick as possible afterwards, but I think it was nearing 8 minutes by the time I had got through transition from hell!

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One of 3 laps on the bike

The bike went alright. I was on my cyclocross, as I had not quite got used to my new TT bike and I had been advised that I should be comfortable on that if I was going to ride it on this course. I took the more sensible option and stuck it out on the cyclocross. It was a tough, hilly route that you covered 3 times. The grounds of the palace truly are stunning and I tried to absorb the beauty of them, whilst pushing myself to go that little bit quicker each time. My only real mistake was grabbing the brake instead of switching gear going up the one of the hills, but I recovered that, and somehow stayed upright and pushed on to the top of the climb.

T2 went pretty smoothly and I was happy with my new Xtenex laces, which allowed me to slide my feet into my trainers and head off sharp-ish! The run was 2 laps of a slightly less hilly course, but undulating all the same. My only upset on the run was on the second lap, when a large group of people wandered onto the course in single file and blocked the whole route, despite there being a marshalled ‘official crossing point’ about 10 metres away, who did not move when I said excuse me, and caused me to almost grind to a halt. I gratefully accepted some water on the route, after going through a little bit of anger management, as it had been a warm day, and pushed through for a sprint finish down the last straight to finish in a time of 1:46:07. Mission accomplished!

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Happy finishers

Race 2: Royal Windsor Triathlon – Standard/Olympic Distance

Two weeks later, I found myself at sparrow fart listening to another race briefing, this time with an orange swim cap on, waiting to take the plunge into the River Thames. This would be my first ever Olympic distance triathlon and my first river swim. The water temperature had been measured the day before at 20°C, and it had been a warm day, so I knew we were in for a scorcher. In a way, I was glad of the 6:28am start!

Racking for this event is done the day before, unless you have paid a premium. My bike had been dropped off in transition on Saturday with my helmet, and I had tried to familiarise myself with all the ins and outs for the different disciplines. Race numbers are picked up on the Saturday as well, attached onto bikes, helmets and the like. All that was left to do on race day was to bring yourself and the rest of your kit along to swim 1500m, cycle 41km and run 10km. (There was a sprint distance available as well.)

No sooner had I really jumped into the Thames in my wetsuit for a predictably warm swim (and stubbed my toe on the bottom in true style), than the race had started – there really wasn’t long at all to familiarise yourself with the water. I ended up in the middle of the pack, with my goggles fogging up, swimming into the sun towards Eton Bridge, hoping that I was following the right people, and not the ones doing the sprint distance. The vision issues caused me a couple of diversions off-course, and some confusion when I got to the turn-around point and there were people in kayaks yelling at me to swim under the rope that was in front of me, but I was soon swimming the last third or so of the route upstream towards transition. I survived the swim in a time of 30:19 minutes.

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I’m too tight to buy the official race pictures, but here’s the Roo for you all to admire

T1 was good. It was again a long one, but thankfully flat. I ran into the entrance at halfway, where you then run up to the top, then all the way back down to the exit where my bike was (which I found no problem this time – wahoo!). I had a smooth change-over and then ran the long exit out the other side. The bike was my favourite part of this triathlon. I was riding the TT bike for the first time in a race – my Quintana Roo, and I was hungry for pace. The bike route is a 2 lap course, where you cover the top section of the route a second time before you head back towards Windsor. It’s mostly on country roads, and certainly a lot flatter than Blenheim. I really enjoy being on the road on two wheels and this race was no exception. I covered the 41km distance in 1:22:01, averaging 18.6mph, which I was very pleased with.

It was starting to get warm, even at 8:30am, as I racked my bike, ran the loop out of T2, and began the 3 lap run I had left to finish the race. The run route takes you from Alexandra Gardens next to the river, up past the castle, and onto the Long Walk, before turning around and running back on yourself, and completing it again. It was a tough end to a race: the sun was beating down and there wasn’t a whole lot of shade, it was going to be mentally tough to complete 3 out-and-back loops, and my body was getting a little tired by the third go.

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New shoelaces ready for action!

It was nice if you were racing someone else, as I was able to high-five and offer encouragement to my friend who was also doing the standard distance race that day, but it was still a tricky time. There is a fine line between over- and under-hydrating, and at first I was concerned about over-doing it, but I soon found myself needing to hydrate at almost every water station with little cups of water. I was determined not to let the heat get to me, and I hadn’t set myself a goal time, just to make sure I finished.

I had a nice surprise on the second lap, when I spotted some friends who had come out by the castle on the nasty climb and offered some support for me to crawl up the hill. That really gave me a boost, and they had moved down to the finish straight to cheer me through to the finish. I decided I could push myself to break the hour for the run, and just came through with a time of 59:47 for the run, and a total triathlon time of 03:03:16. Not bad for a first go! I have signed up for next year already(!) to try to break the 3 hour mark now. Bring it on!

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Super happy, proud, first-time Olympic distance finishers!

I would say, that despite the heat, I enjoyed the longer distance more, and would definitely choose a standard distance event in the future over a sprint, if the opportunity is there. Eventually I would like to build up to longer distances, but I’m in no rush, as I am enjoying it. My next race is a sprint distance that I already had booked for the 23rd July in London, so I will try to bring my time down there (once I have got over the cold I am nursing this week).

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

How To Conquer Triathlon

Blenheim Palace Triathlon is looming this weekend for myself and many others, so to help a few with some details, I have put together this post to try and calm friends and strangers alike. It certainly doesn’t cover everything – I could write a book on it, and several people have – but it covers the main points.

So, you’re having a meltdown because you have signed up for a triathlon and now it’s only a few days away! I am going to impart as much wisdom as my brain has, and hopefully it will help any budding triathletes, out of practice athletes, or anyone who has a brain like a sieve like I do and needs to check their kit bag 30 times before they leave for an event! This is based mostly on a shorter distance triathlon, but can be applied to longer distances if required.

If the race is coming this weekend, then I won’t need to give you any training advice – you should have done that part already! If you feel under-trained, then my advice would be to consider if you have done at least enough to get you round, otherwise you could be risking yourself and potentially risk others on the course. But, hopefully you have done some training and you’re good to go. If you are still worried, there is no point trying to cram training in this week – it should be a gentle week for training; just keep yourself ticking over.

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The beautiful transition area at Blenheim Palace

Next step: whether you have trained hard or not, I would recommend some time invested over the next few days in training your brain. A lot of things are controlled by your mental state, and I like to use some time in the run up to events telling myself that it is possible, I will make it round, and I can do this! It doesn’t always matter how quickly you do it, it’s all about finishing, and gaining experience. PB’s are a bonus!

I think it goes without saying to get plenty of rest and not to overdo it this week. Gentle exercise – certainly nothing at race pace, and a good amount of sleep. If you’re going a distance, a couple of days of carb-loading won’t go amiss! Don’t eat a huge mountain of carbs in one sitting, go for smaller portions in every meal. This will help load your muscles slowly with the energy they need to perform.

Now you’re loaded up, you’re probably going to start looking at your kit bag. Below is a list of essentials, and then I will follow it up with “luxury items” that you may want to include. Just remember, you don’t need to pack the kitchen sink – ask yourself, “do you really need this?”. The worst thing you can do is put too much in your transition area, and give yourself too many choices when you get there in the race. You will spend too long dithering and deciding: socks or no socks… these gloves or those, sun visor or cap? etc. Spend the time now making those decisions and pack ONE!

transition-funnt

Bare necessities:

  • Tri suit, or shorts and top – what you will wear for the whole race, and under your wetsuit
  • Sports bra (if you are a female)
  • Socks – if you have chosen to wear them for the bike/run sections
  • Wetsuit – unless you are brave enough to go in without?!
  • Goggles
  • Towel (for drying your feet off after the swim)
  • Trainers – for running, and cycling if you don’t clip in
  • Cycling shoes – if you do clip in
  • Helmet – a must for riding your bike!
  • Swimming cap (just in case, but generally you will be supplied one for the race)
  • Push bike
  • Fuel and hydration – I will come to that in a bit
  • The contents of your race pack – numbers, stickers, timing chip, safety pins…

That should be all you need to get round, with maybe a couple of extra bits if you are a minimalist! Another decision you should make now – what you are going to put it all in. I remember my first triathlon, where I was lucky enough to have my boyfriend carry my things from one end of Dorney Lake to the other with me, in about 3 different small bags. I saw loads of people wobbling about trying to balance big plastic boxes on their bikes walking along. It seemed to be the norm. I have always wondered if these people have ever heard of rucksacks, or bags, which you can put on your back and then have your hands free to steer your bike to transition. I was fortunate enough to be spoiled with the gift of a transition rucksack, which is a little large, but will be able to carry my wetsuit (with a special compartment of its own for when it’s wet), and everything else I need! I would recommend the rucksack approach.

Luxury items you may wish to bring – the basics, although certainly by no means limited to:

  • GPS watch (probably the most popular item)
  • Bike repair kit (inner tubes, pump – mine is always bolted to my bike, tyre levers, etc.)
  • Sun glasses
  • Sun visor or cap (remember, choose one and take one only with you!)
  • A pair of old flip flops to abandon lake side
  • Race belt – used by many to attach numbers to your body for the cycle and run. For the bike portion you will need a number on your back, and the run a number on your front. You can just spin it round and it saves either re-pinning a number if you are only given one, or wearing one front and back.
  • Lube! This will help your wetsuit slide off like Bruce Almighty’s clothing (if you have ever watched the film). Everyone has their favourite. I prefer a concoction of baby oil and Vaseline – I don’t believe the myths that Vaseline destroys your wetsuit; I have found no physical or scientific evidence of this – but there are other good products like Body Glide. I even read in an entertaining book I once, that there is a lady out there that swears by Durex Play!
  • Sun cream – the waterproof variety
  • Something comfortable to wear afterwards, if you are fortuitous to be racing somewhere stunning that you can look round post-race, such as Blenheim Palace, or you have a celebration after. Also, bear in mind whether there will be somewhere to change, although there is nothing wrong with getting changed in the loo, and wiping yourself down with baby wipes!
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Swim start lining up at Blenheim

Nutrition. My main point here would be the golden rule of all racing events: Never try anything new on race day! You might do it once, and then you will never do it again, after one bad experience. Use what you have been training with, and what your stomach and body is used to. If you can stomach gels and you have been using them, that’s what to go for. As a side note, if you want something similar to gels, but can’t get on with them, energy chews such as Clif Shot Bloks are a good alternative. Jelly babies, Haribo, fig rolls, dried fruit (I like apricots)… Whatever your poison is, that’s what you take. Be sensible – you don’t need enough to survive a week in the jungle – take enough, and a little bit extra in case you struggle, to get you round.

The great thing about a lot of tri gear is that it has places to put things. If you wear a tri suit, it may have pockets in the back, a bit like a cycling jersey. If you have a race belt, you might have purchased one with gel holders in, so you can fix them in before the race. Make it accessible to yourself. It’s easy to take on nutrition on the bike, and if it’s a short distance, you may get away with running without anything. Plan what you are going to eat and when, and stick to it.

Hydration wise, I tend to put a bottle on my bike for a short ride and load it with 2 for a longer one. You won’t be out on the bike for that long in a sprint triathlon, so carrying an extra bottle of water will just be more weight on the bike. You can leave another drink in the transition area if you are worried and drink it when you get off the bike. Water is fine, or you can pop hydration tablets in, if that’s your thing, or simply some squash for a bit of flavour.

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Aerial shot of the beautiful grounds

RACE DAY

  • Make sure you have had plenty of sleep the night before and you are well rested. Don’t fret going to sleep – everything will be fine and all that positive thinking you have been doing will pay off. Check your bag has everything in it before you go to bed, if that puts your mind at rest.
  • Give yourself plenty of time to eat breakfast, get to the event early enough to get parked, set up your transition area before it closes to competitors, and to absorb the atmosphere.
  • Breakfast should be nutritious, and something you are used to. I have inherited my favourite pre-race breakfast from a running buddy, which is porridge with blueberries. He says, “If it’s good enough for Bradley Wiggins, then it’s good enough for me.”. Then, around 30-40 minutes before the race, I will have a banana to top up my energy levels.
  • Practice the day before how you want your transition area laid out, and even practice transition, if you think that will help. Or just spend the time organising in the morning when you are there, making it easy for you to grab what you need fast, and continue your race. Learn from your mistakes. I used to put all my things on top of my towel, and then realised when I got out of the lake and wanted to dry my feet, everything was on top of it, which was no good! It will also make a difference how you lay things out depending on if you have a single transition area, or two separate areas, more commonly known as T1 and T2. Find out what is there on the day and plan around it.
  • Give yourself some extra time to get lubed up, into your wetsuit, and ready to swim.
  • You’re ready to race! Don’t forget all your race numbers, head down to the water, take some deep breaths and go for it!

Do your best, and most importantly, enjoy yourself. If you aren’t enjoying it, and it’s not down to bad luck, I always ask myself, “why am I doing this?”. Push yourself as hard  as you can, and achieve what you want to achieve. You have got this!

finsihing-pain

Thanks for reading, and good luck to those of you racing this weekend!

Amanda x

Swim For Your Life

It’s been a little while – training and life has been keeping me busy, but I have some spare time to share a new post with you all, having just come back from physiotherapy! This one is all about open water swimming. It’s worth a read if you are a seasoned open water swimmer, triathlete, just starting out, or really just fancy having a go! It’s a nice refresher for myself as well.

I think a lot of people have a little fear of the open water, and for several different reasons. “I’m not a good swimmer”, is a common one. This is something you will have to judge yourself a tiny bit. If you can hardly swim 10 metres (I’ve been there too), then you may need a little more practise in the pool. If you can happily swim 200 metres – it doesn’t matter how fast or slow, and not necessarily front crawl the whole way, i.e. you can breast stroke until the cows come home, then I would say you can brave the lake.

“It’s cold and dirty”, is one I hear a lot. Yes, the lake is colder than the swimming pool, and yes, fish, birds and other life forms swim in it. But, on a warm summer’s day, there is nothing more refreshing that jumping into the cool lake and enjoying a swim where you don’t have to avoid “that guy (or girl)” who has arms like an octopus and won’t move out of the way, or endlessly turning at the ends of the pool to look at more tiles, or swimming in what I have heard referred to as ‘human soup’! (Definition: where people have had a wee, snot-blasted, dribbled, shedded hair balls – true story – or any other human substances in a chlorinated body of water.) Also, most open water swimmers wear wetsuits, which are designed to keep your body warm, so no excuses!

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Showing the glamorous side of neoprene wearing, and how many chins you can develop sprinting out of a lake!

Preparation. As I quickly mentioned just now, you may (probably will) want to wear a wetsuit. They keep you warm, and are quite buoyant, so they will help you float. Most lakes will also allow swimmers to go in without a wetsuit, although you might find you have to sign a ‘no-wetsuit waiver’. I recommend the wetsuit, and if you’re not sure, hire one to try it out. Generally, if you are feeling committed, it will work out cheaper to buy your own than keep renting one – remember, you don’t have to buy a top of the range one – but do go for a swimming one over a watersports one. They are more buoyant, and are built stretchier, to allow for full movement of your arms when you swim. Other than that, you will just need a brightly coloured swimming cap, so that the lifeguards can see you, which you can pick up for about £3 in Sports Direct, and a pair of goggles, which I hope you would have anyway! If not, try Sports Direct, or a similar shop again for a reasonably priced pair (£10?), and make sure you try them on to find the ones that fit your face the best. You don’t need to go out and buy some fancy, expensive open water swimming mask (generally the masks leak – I warned you, ok?).

Finding a lake. Google, ask around, contact your local triathlon club. More and more swimming lakes are popping up all over. DON’T go and find a random body of water and start swimming in it. There are plenty of safe, life-guarded lakes with courses marked out and lots of friendly people! If you are near me/Burnham, you have a choice of Bray Lake, Liquid Leisure in Datchet, Westhorpe Lake in Marlow, and Heron Lake in Wraysbury. All are great lakes, and I believe they all still only charge £5 a swim, which is cheaper than the local swimming pool! My favourite is Bray, because it’s local, and just such a lovely lake to swim in.

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Bray Lake enticing you in – go on, you know you want to swim in it!

Getting help. Find a friend who is enthusiastic and a current open water swimmer, and ask them to go in with you, if you are worried. Another great way into the sport, is to take an introduction to open water swimming course. These are fantastic, as they run you through everything from putting your goggles on so that they don’t leak, to taking you round a small loop in the lake and making sure you don’t drown.

Sighting. If you skipped the introductory session, it may be worth noting one small point. In the swimming pool, it’s well-lit, and the water is clear, so you can see to the other end of the pool. The lake is a little bit different. The water is green-y and darker, so you won’t just be able to keep your head down and swim along – you will need to check where you are going. Open water swimmers use a technique called sighting, specifically for this purpose. During front crawl, just before you turn your head to the side to breathe, lift it slightly so that your goggles clear out of the water and take a peek  – I imagine it like taking a quick photograph – then turn your head to the side to breathe as normal. It’s a quick glance, and you are looking for some big, brightly coloured buoys that mark out the course set out in the lake. If you’re still not sure, have a look on YouTube – there are some good videos that run you through the process.

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Mass swim start, team relay tri event. Spot me above the word ‘Tri’, with the blue goggles on! Open water swimming can open up opportunities like this one.

Swimming. Now to get on with the bit you have all come for – the swim! Don your swim cap, your goggles and your wetsuit (unless you are brave!), remembering that the zip goes at the back – we have all been there once – and use the pads of your fingers to pull it up. Avoid getting your fingernails dug in, as this will tear the suit. Get in the water, and allow it to get into your wetsuit and trickle up the zip. It may feel a bit cold, but take a few moments to acclimatize, letting your body adjust to the temperature. I would recommend either washing your goggles about in the water, or for the less precious of us, spitting into them and giving them a quick wash out. This stops them from fogging up, so that when you need to see where you are going, you can. Your hands and neck should go in next, and when you are ready, dunk your head under. This will all help adjust to the temperature of the water. If you’re really cold, have a wee! I’m not joking – everyone does it, and it sure warms you up. To quote something I read recently, “there are two types of people in the world; those who wee in their wetsuits, and liars.”.

Then, don’t think too much about it – swim! If you aren’t feeling too confident, start out on the shortest loop. In some lakes, this may be 400m, and others it may be 150-250m. Don’t panic – if you need to stop swimming, simply stop. Treading water is easier than you think, your wetsuit will aid in keeping you afloat, and if you want to paddle around a bit you can. You can breast stroke if you are tired of front crawl, or you can just float on your belly or your back – just be careful waving your arms around if you are on your back, or staying like it for too long, because floating on your back with your arms in the air is actually the distress signal in open water. So, unless you need rescuing, keep your arms down!

Once you are finished and satisfied with your swim, get out, have a lovely warm shower, and bask in the glory of what you have achieved. Get a hot drink if you fancy one – most lakes have a little cafe on site – and plan when your next swim will be. Most of all, enjoy it!

Some of my favourite things about lake swimming:

  • Swimming continuously without having to stop and turn around, or avoid people
  • A sense of freedom, getting close to nature, and being outdoors
  • Enjoying a sunrise, or a sunset, if you get in early, or out late
  • Training with and around some wonderful people, who are all as enthusiastic and in love with the sport as each other
  • And, with risk of sounding a bit like a hippie, feeling alive!
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Two very happy girls, having completed their first lake swim of the year – a chilly 11°C. Me and my cold swimming buddy, Helen.

Arguably, not everything is for everyone, but I think you should at least have a go or three at most things to see if they suit you. You never know, open water swimming may just be your thing. As a good friend of mine always says, “I think I’ll be really good at that, because I haven’t tried it yet.”.

Happy swimming, and thanks for reading as always,

Amanda x

For Those About To Run, I Salute You

Marathon season is drawing to a close. A lot of people I know have been out and about, running all through winter, getting their miles in, and training hard for one big day where they have to run 26.2 miles. A feat that, for some, may seem too much and a little bit crazy!

I am one of those mad men – or women – who have been beavering away on evenings and Sunday mornings to get the mileage in for the main event. Marathon training is certainly not something to be taken lightly – it is a big challenge and I cannot stress enough to anyone looking to attempt their first one: it is time-consuming, and it is hard. That’s not to put you off at all, I just think it is something to consider before going for it.

A few things I have learnt from marathon training:

  • Hours of your time will be devoted to one day. You will have to sacrifice a lot of weekend mornings to get your long runs in – Sundays for most. This also includes beers the night before – unless you enjoy a hangover run! I was fortunate enough to have the support of a lovely bunch from my running club who met up religiously every Sunday morning for a long run, and we all followed roughly the same plan.
  • The support of a running club is the biggest help. I am part of Burnham Joggers. They have been wonderful to me, and having such a great club behind you, especially with an injury, was such a big help. Loads of us trained together, with pace sessions, hill sessions and long runs in all different pace groups. There was also plenty of virtual and real-life support on the day. Amazing!
  • Eventually, even I get tired! Yes, you heard – after months of training like mad and squeezing in a long run every Sunday morning for weeks on end, I started to get tired and just couldn’t wait to finish the marathon in the end, and claim back some of my weekend!
  • Vaseline and baths are completely under-rated. Vaseline to keep the blisters and chafing at bay, baths to soothe the pain afterwards. I would sit in a cold bath for 6 minutes when I got back from my long runs. I even started to enjoy them?!
  • Keeping training interesting can get tricky, but it is do-able. For our 18 mile training run, a big group of us met at Black Park (a local, beautiful country park), and ran 6 miles out and down the canal, ran back the same way, and then finished the last 6 in a 10k race, raising money for a Stroke charity. It was a great plan to help get a long run in, with a medal at the end, and support when you needed it the most!
  • A lot of long distance running is, for the large part, a mental battle. Your body CAN carry you 26.2 miles (with the correct training, obviously), but that chimp we spoke about before will try to do or say anything to make you believe otherwise. Mental training is just as important as physical training!

Event day soon loomed. I took part in Brighton Marathon on 9th April, with my running buddy Zoe, who had also been suffering with injury. The course is pretty flat as 26.2 miles go, with only a couple of hills, and the worst one being in the 1st mile. The route was fairly interesting, although there were a few parts running back on yourself.

The main part for me was the support. Almost the whole way round, we were inundated with supporters, music, and entertainers. It was all a bit overwhelming, but in a good way, I must add. The start is in Preston Park, which you may not recognise by name, but maybe by location if you have been to Brighton. It’s the big park to your left on the main road into Brighton, and it’s not too far from the sea front. The park was full of people – an astonishing 12,500 runners would take part that day. Luckily, I found my running buddy at our pre-arranged meeting point with ease!

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Preston Park, at the Clock Tower, before the race.

Zoe’s family was a fantastic support – they met us at the start area and cheered us on at the first mile; then we saw them again at the halfway point, and also at the finish. My friend had been kind enough to give me and my boyfriend a bed for the night. They both waited for us at around 8 and 11 miles, and then at the finish, also taking some really lovely photos for us and making us laugh! We also saw some Burnham Joggers, who had completed the 10k that same morning (before the marathon had even started), and we saw them at mile 6.

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Mile 1, heading away from the park

The rest of the course was lined with supporters, cheering everyone on. It was incredible! There were plenty of drummers, providing us with a beat to run to – even giving us a boost. Live bands played in several places, as well as a group of cheerleaders on a stage, who we passed twice, dancing to loud, upbeat music, and funnily enough, cheering us on! Around miles 14 to 18, the route took us through housing estates. You would think this would be a boring part of the course, but I was again astounded at how the local residents had welcomed the race. Families were outside their houses for hours on end, handing out drinks and sweets to runners. Some had their garden hoses, sponges with buckets of water, and water pistols out, trying to cool everyone down. I think I may have forgotten to mention until now that we were running on the hottest day of the year. It was 21°C at midday and we were ROASTING!

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Mile 11. Still smiling! Photo credit to Chris Parry-Morris (winner of the secret photography competition)

The only negative that I have to say about the entire experience was the water stations. By the most part, they were well-stocked and there was water to go around. However, when we started getting further into the race, we were shocked with the news at a drinks station that they had in fact run out of water. Other drinks stations were overflowing with cups of water that would probably not get drunk by the end. It became more frequent the further we got round the course, and I couldn’t help but feel awful for the people behind us, who would have been out in the heat and on their feet for even longer than we had by the time they reached the point we were at. The organisers did apologise, as it was hotter than expected, and they reckoned that there was 3.5 litres of water for every person around the course. There may well have been, but I think it was poorly distributed.

Back to the race, though. They say the marathon starts at 20 miles, and we sure did start to feel it. The route gets a bit quieter around this point, as you head out for a lap around the power station. In some ways, this was a pleasant break from the endless support that had covered the course so far. Approximately 2.5 miles later, we were heading back down the sea front, with stunning views of the sea in glorious sunshine, and it was nice boost. The support was back: from people relaxing in the sun, to others wandering around. Just what we needed to carry us those last few miles.

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Team colours and still smiling!

As we neared the 26 mile marker, a big grin crossed mine and Zoe’s faces. The end was in sight , and Zoe apparently had a bit of a sprint up her sleeve! We had spotted all of our loved ones and they had given us the biggest cheers of the day – they knew we were about to accomplish our goals as well. We crossed the finish line, absolutely exhausted, in a comfortable time of 5:16:06. A time that is plastered on the back of my medal, on my medal hanger display, my trainers, and just about anywhere else I can get it! We had run a marathon! Having that medal hung around my neck was such a fantastic feeling! I have a t-shirt that I am extremely proud of (even if they had run out of my size and I was stuck with a large).

What an incredible experience it was. I was exhausted afterwards, very glad of a bath and some food, and plenty of sleep that night – it was a very early night for me indeed!

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Relaxing on the beach afterwards. Sun, beer, medal, and goody bag. Perfect!

Now for the soppy bit. Sorry folks! I could not have finished this race without the support from my friends and family. My sister, who could not stop saying good luck when I left for Brighton on Saturday. My friend Chris, for welcoming us into his home, giving us a bed for the night, and for his support and excellent photography skills on the day. My boyfriend Chris for driving me there and back, and putting up with all my long hours of training, especially at weekends. As well as listening to me moan about my injury and being there for me. Zoe for being my marathon buddy, getting those training runs in together, and bringing not only her own support around the course with me, but her wonderful family to cheer us on too. Burnham Joggers, especially Julia for popping up along the course and all those who trained with me on Sundays – you know who you are, for all their support in training, cheering, and congratulations. My best buddy Katie and her mum for believing in me, for their love and support, and my lovely post-race bling! I could go on and on, but I would just like to say thank you to everyone else I know for putting up with my training, injury, listening to me go on about marathon this, marathon that, and your general love and support.

Never say never, especially when there are Autumn marathons to eye up! And for those about to run,  I salute you.

Thanks for reading,

Amanda x

I Should Have Run Alone

Before you form an opinion of this post, or dismiss it, purely because of the title, I would ask you to read a little further. Here are my disclaimers, if you will. What I am about to explain does not reflect on anyone I have run with, currently run with or might ever run with in the future – this is me and my brain, not any of you. I want to make that clear. Secondly, I need to explain something from a book I have read that I use a lot in my life to explain and control (if that is the right word?) my feelings and sometimes my actions. That book is The Chimp Paradox by Professor Steve Peters.

My extremely brief explanation I need to give for you to understand the rest of the post, although I highly recommend you read the book anyway, is this. Your brain has 3 primary psychological areas: the parietal (the computer), the frontal (the human), and the limbic (the chimp). The computer stores and remembers information for you to use again, the human is you, and the chimp is your emotional part, who likes to be the first to react. He (or she) is the one I want to emphasise on at this point – he is your knee-jerk reaction, your first impression, and most predominantly for those of us who exercise, the one who puts those negative thoughts in our heads that make us want to stop.

Now I can rewind a little. I had been off work sick the day before, where I was run down with a cold. I hadn’t been able to run or attend a pilates session at the club. Still feeling the effects of the cold to an extent, I felt a little snotty and tired, but as I explained to everyone – I tried getting rid of it with a curry, so it must need a run to blast it out! I wanted to keep my legs ticking over, as it was now a week and a half until the marathon – eek! So, off I went, running a beautiful route through footpaths and down by the river.

That’s when it started. “I should have run alone.” It was The Chimp, he had climbed out of his box and was trying to get the better of me. I said to him, “No, I’m running a lovely route, enjoying nature, blasting the last of this cold out, and I’m tapering for the marathon.”. The Chimp went on to tell me that I was holding the others back, that I wasn’t good enough to be  running with them, and in an effort to make me grumpy, he screeched, “You should have run alone!”. Those words hit me hard.

I am sure – no, I know – that every runner, or any athlete for that matter, experiences at some point in their training that negative voice that says, “You can’t do this. You’re rubbish and you should just stop!”. I urge you all to ignore it. When the going gets tough, The Chimp gets scared and anxious, and thinks he is protecting you by letting you admit defeat. Don’t listen to him.

I have developed my own way of dealing with my chimp when I need to ignore what he says. Whether you are running, cycling, swimming, surfing, skiing, playing tennis…. whatever your sport is, this is relevant to you! I put him in his box, he can screech away all he likes, and I might hear him, but that doesn’t mean I have to listen to him and give in.

At first, you are required to look into the past. Use your computer in your brain and look at what you have achieved. More often that not, you will have completed the distance you are trying to achieve when you start to struggle, so there is no need to listen to that negativity. ‘But this is the first time I am running 10 miles’, I hear you say. ‘I have got to 9 miles and this is as far as I have gone before, and I’m struggling, so I should give up’. To which I would say, “Can you run a mile?”. The answer is yes. You can run a mile. Tell your body (and your chimp) that although you have run 9 miles, it is only one more, and you know you can do that. I deploy this technique when completing longer training runs too. When you need to squeeze a 20 mile run out, I find the best way for me is to get to halfway and try and tell my body that actually, I haven’t just run 10 miles, I’m just heading out on tired legs from the week – it’s almost like a little reset button.

You are also required to look into the future. Alright, I haven’t taken my crazy pills this morning – make all the jokes you like – but I know what I mean. In this instance, on that particular evening where The Chimp has said that I should have run alone, I know that I need to look into the future and see how I think I will feel after the run. Obviously the future is not definite, so there will always be several possibilities ahead. Here, we have the first option, which is where The Chimp wins, tells me to stop and I have to drag myself slowly back to the club alone, in the dark. This will be a miserable experience for me and one I would regret. Option two – I continue running with the people I set out with, pushing hard to keep up, but listening to the chimp moan that it’s too hard and it’s going to ruin the marathon (he loves to be a drama queen!). Or, I can choose the third option. This is my favourite and the one that I was lucky enough to know to select that night. I continued running at a pace I found more comfortable, allowed myself to drop back a little and let the others go on ahead a bit. We are all aware I am tapering, no one is offended or upset by it, and in fact, later on I would be of use on “poo watch” down the trails where it has got a bit darker!

The final part to silencing the negative voice is hindsight. Now you have completed the run, The Chimp has calmed down, realised no one has died, and has been returned to his box, you can reflect on the possibilities of how the evening could have unfolded. So maybe I didn’t run with the club and I had headed out by myself. The Chimp is still grumpy because of the cold that is blocking up my airways and instead of flipping out about running with other people, he now gets the hump about running altogether. I end up run-walking the distance I wanted to complete, possibly even cutting it short and I feel unsatisfied and disheartened by the whole experience. Those few moments of doubt in this case, were managed and pushed away, and I could complete my run comfortably and in good company.

So, my point to all of this, is that if you can apply this reasoning to the negative ideas that appear in your head during any training, then you will hopefully find things going a lot more smoothly on the mental side of things. Training with another person, or with more people, can give you the support that you need to reach an end goal. Yes, you may be able to achieve it alone, but I wonder whether it would be with the same mental stability as if you were training with a group or in a pair. When I train in the pool with my friend, The Chimp might screech to slow down because you’re blowing and it’s difficult, but having that other person there stops you from ‘wimping out’, and forces you to push on. There is a certain amount of bravado about soldiering on when you are suffering, because you don’t want to look weak, or let the others down. You can use that to your advantage – harness it and use it to silence your chimp.

Although  I was almost afraid to admit it the other week (until a friend pointed it out to me), I started to get tired 17 miles into a 20 mile training run. He said, “you get tired like normal people”, and he was right. It didn’t matter if I was tired, as long as I finished it. I knew I had to just keep going, not only because I needed the run for my training, but also because everyone around me was counting on it. I didn’t want to stop, but I went quiet because I was tired. I was looking forward to the end and a drink of water. I pushed on, I completed the mileage, and I didn’t die. Proof to the negative thoughts that they were wrong yet again. I took that one, and logged it in a little box in my brain for another day when I would need to fight the good fight again.

Just remember – everyone gets tired, everyone can get negative, but everyone can come out clean the other side. And do you know what? I shouldn’t have run alone.

Thank you for reading as always!

Amanda x

P.S. All rights to The Chimp idea are obviously to Steve Peters. I hope he doesn’t mind me explaining a bit and how I use it!

Pearl’s a Stinger

Firstly, apologies again for the scarce posts of late. I have a lot on my plate at the moment with marathon and triathlon training and it is difficult to find time to sit and write. Now, let’s begin.

The Grizzly is a race in Devon, in its 30th year and it is indescribable in how tough, enduring, and incredible it really is. Now I am going to contradict myself, as I am going to try and describe it to you. Of course, the one true way to know what I mean would be to participate yourself, but the more sensible of you will be satisfied in my description, I feel! The race covers every terrain you can think of: road, mud, fields, hills, sandy beach, stony beach, bog, river, forest trails, cliff paths, coastal paths, farmland, steps, cross-cambers, and footpaths.

Rewind to Saturday. We arrived there in the afternoon and scouted out the area. The race starts and finishes in Seaton, a lovely seaside town along the Jurassic Coast, that is normally quiet this time of year. However, the town was busy with people, many of whom had arrived and were staying for the event. A market had been set up outside the town hall with several stalls raising money for the local community, and inside the hall was more stalls selling race merchandise and sports gear. We would return there later in the evening for the ‘Griz Quiz’.

Four of us from the running club had been fortunate enough to receive places in the race; Patricia, Oliver, Jenny and I). It was decided a few years back that due to its popularity, the fairest way for entries to the race was to use a ballot system. Let’s start with some introductions. Patricia is one of the best runners I know and this will be her second go at The Grizzly. She runs several marathons (and occasionally ultras) every year. She is pure muscle, an absolute machine, and at 60 years old would eat most of you alive on race day. Oliver, her other half, is also a well accomplished runner, never too far behind Patricia, and flies along the trails. This will be his debut at The Grizzly (as well as mine). Jenny is another fantastic runner, coming back to the race for a second time also, having completed marathons all over the world – several a year, in fact, and headed on a week after this race to take part in the Los Angeles marathon! She is also a very strong sportswoman, as well as an accomplished Iron Man. All in all, a very strong group from Burnham Joggers, and then little, injured me!

Like the athletes we all are, we congregated in the local fish and chip shops for a delicious pre-race fresh fish dinner. Then we headed on to the Griz Quiz, entering as a team and joining in with some raffle tickets. It was set out like a regular pub quiz, with 10 rounds, a bar for drinks, chocolate treats for the best team per round and a really friendly atmosphere. We enjoyed ourselves and landed a respectable middle of the table place in the rankings.

Sunday, the next morning, was race day. I munched down my porridge and blueberries, selected a warm weather kit for running in – compression shorts, anti-blister socks, a club vest and my Salomon cross shoes for the mud – and we headed down to get parked up. There was a bag drop in the town hall if you needed it, but I just left my bag in the car in the Tesco parking space we had been allocated and planned for Chris, my boyfriend to bring it with him to the finish some hours later.

At the start of the race, all four of us met up and listened to the ‘town crier’, who was doing the pre-race announcements. He cried, “You all signed up for this, and now you must face the consequences!”, he also wished us well with, “May your blisters be small!”, and other such announcements that had the crowd laughing and in good spirits. Then we were off!

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This was without doubt the hardest start to a run I have ever experienced. We started running along the esplanade parallel to the beach, then we turned onto said beach, and ran in the opposite direction, across the shingle. If you have never run across a stony beach, I will advise you that it is a difficult task. Being in the first mile of the race, you don’t want to head out too hard and sap all of your energy, or you won’t make it round the other 20 miles. Every step you take is hindered by the stones shifting under your feet, resulting in an odd gait and tiring you quickly. The sound of two thousand feet running across the stones was an incredible auditory sensation, like one hundred thousand hands applauding. A very long half a mile later, however, we had left the beach and were headed out onto the rest of the course.

I will try not to bore you with too many details such as, ‘we went up a hill, we went down a hill… Then there was another hill!’, so I would advise filling in the gaps with ‘there was a big, steep, and most probably muddy hill’! I will say of these hills, whether on road or off, that they were mostly steep, or they were extremely steep. So vertical in fact, that you could hardly walk up them. Some of them were so difficult to climb up, mostly due to the inches thick of mud caked onto your shoes which made you slip and slide, that you struggled to find grip no matter where you stepped. One incline had a rope which was being used by runners to pull themselves up. I will add that the order of events in the race are a little muddled in my head, so may not be in chronological order.

Runners had come from all over the world, in fact. The USA and Holland for a start, but also some more local places to us such as Marlow, Reading, Bracknell and Sandhurst. A lot of people approaching me thought that I was running from Burnham-on-sea, not Burnham in Slough… I ran a good portion of the route with some very friendly Reading Roadrunners (Peter and Claire), who like me were training for marathons and just trying to survive the course. There were many other nationalities that had come over the years which had been represented on some gates covered in the flags of the different countries. The Portuguese flag stood out to those of us who had argued over its colours at the quiz the night before!

We met the first water station at the caravan park that can be seen from Seaton beach. This is near the top of a cliff and overlooks the sea. I gratefully accepted a cup of water from one of the 9 aid stations on the course and admired the extraordinary sight of all the runners lining the route winding up the hill through the campsite and over to the top of the cliff. At the summit of the challenging climb, we were greeted with the most beautiful view – it was truly breath-taking!

One of the climbs we dragged ourselves up twisted and turned through the mud, but we all followed the sound of bagpipes playing ‘Scotland the Brave’ until we were greeted with the sight of a man in full Scottish dress (kilt and all) playing away. He even played ‘Happy Birthday’ for a runner!

Another musical moment of the race was around miles 8-9, when we passed a folk band on a stage playing their music as – yes, you guessed it – we climbed another hill. There were musicians we passed playing guitar and singing at a point we passed early on in the race and again in the later miles. The second time round, we were running through a pub garden, which gave a massive boost, not only because of the music, but also because there were supporters on either side of you, cheering and beering!

I would say that maybe 14 miles in was where the bog was. The route led you through a river several times until you reached the thick, sticky, shoe-stealing mass. People had been tying their shoelaces extra tight before they tried to tackle it, determined to keep their footwear for themselves. Our leading lady, Patricia told us later of how she got stuck in the knee-deep bog and had to get help from the marshals to pull her out!

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Happily running through a shallow bog section

Speaking of the marshals; I don’t know where to start. They were all fantastic. Whether they were there to entertain you, support you, ensure you were safe, encourage you, point you in the right direction, or feed and water you, they just kept you going right through to the end. For such a long distance event, I was truly amazed at the support the entire way round. You were never very far from the next marshal. My ‘marshal of the day’ award goes to the man on another teeth-gritting climb who was encouraging everyone moving up the hill at snails’ pace with cheers such as, “Great running!”, and “No one approach the log in the pathway at speed!”.
If there wasn’t a marshal about for a few paces, you were sure to find a sign put up by the organisers. Some were philosophical, some amusing, and some confusing. One that stuck in my head is ‘You are now here all ways (you are nowhere always)’.

The aid stations get a shout out all to themselves. Shortly after the bog, I think, a lady was supporting and told us that there were cakes and all sorts at the bottom of the hill and to keep going. Naively, I thought to myself, “yeah right, thanks for the false hope”. How wrong I was. I may as well have eaten my hat, although that was one thing they didn’t have in stock. There was an Emergency Battenberg station, cakes, flapjacks, cocktail sausages, crisps, sweets, and even hot bacon rolls and coffee being made. I thought it was a mirage – I had never seen anything like it at an event in all my life!

When the route led back down to the beach down sharp declines, I realised I was going to have to run on sandy and stony beach, as well as back through the freezing cold, thigh deep waters that ran along the back stretch of the sand. It was very chilly and all I could do to keep moving. The stones were hard to conquer after that, but I kept my rhythm using the handy beat from a group of drummers positioned just in the right spot.

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Struggling along the beach 16 miles in

At mile 16, along the last beach stretch, there was a couple of trees put in the sand and they were being used as a memorial. Runners had brought ribbons all that way round to tie on to the tree in memory of loved ones. There was even a signed t-shirt, which I assumed was in memory of a runner who had completed the event, or a local. It was very moving. The beach soon turned into a cliff climb up a coastal path, and then some very steep steps more commonly known in this event as the ‘Stairway to Heaven’. Halfway up these, a man dressed as a priest was reading in the style of one, but talking about the race and getting to the finish without collapsing. It amused us all and helped us get to the summit at least!

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Near the top of the Stairway to Heaven

Following the route back roughly the same way we had come in earlier, I knew I was not far at all from the finish. As you came down the hills you had climbed at the start (most welcome, I might add), the finish was in sight and in earshot! I picked up the pace as best as I could on tired legs and pounded towards the finish. The straight was lined with supporters, all cheering on ‘Burnham’, and that the finish was near. My new running acquaintances from Reading made an appearance, then I forced the biggest smile I could for the 3 photographers, heard my name and club announced over the loudspeaker (a moment of pride) and I was over the line.

There were firemen a bit further on, trying to hose the mud off your legs (and not succeeding too well), a finisher’s t-shirt for all, drinks, bananas, and flapjacks. I was so pleased to have got to the end of the race and had thoroughly enjoyed the experience. We met for dinner as a club later that night and discussed our favourite parts. Oliver said, “the finish!”.

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Those last few steps towards the finish!

A huge thank you to Axe Valley Runners and the local community for putting on and supporting such an amazing event. I am sure I will be back to settle my score with The Grizzly in years to come!

Thank you once again for reading.

Amanda x