My first triathlon podium – and when I realised I might be quite good at middle distance – was provided by the Castles Challenge race in Bamburgh in 2014. Almost a year to the day after this (26th July 2015) I returned to the scene to see if I could ascend the podium from last year’s 3rd place. In my favour was the fact that my training had been better, and I had some good confidence-boosting results behind me. But going against me was the fact that the swim was unlikely to be as wrong (as long) as last year, and that I’d taken advice to treat this as a training day rather than an important race (so that I’d be in better shape for the Scottish Championships in Aberfeldy three weeks later). This meant I hadn’t ‘tapered’ my training off, so I wasn’t as well rested as I could have been (e.g., I’d swum a hard 4 km set two days earlier).
To get an idea of what the race is like, here’s a summary from 2014, complete with stirring music:
The deep water start suited me better than last year’s beach start, as I was able to start at the front of the pack and try to stay there. On the long swim leg down Bamburgh beach I was taken by the spectacular scenery I was treated to on each breath – either right towards the stunning Bamburgh Castle, or left out to sea. Rounding the buoys at the far end I realised there weren’t many swimmers in front of me. Then came the slightly shorter leg up the beach against the current, during which I stopped appreciating my surroundings and tried to keep my place. I found myself alongside another female competitor with a similar pace, so a race ensued (competitive, moi?). We exited the water at the same time, but I was quicker up the beach, and soon learned I was first female into transition! 1.9 km swim + beach run time 34:17 (1st female and 9th overall). One of my strongest swims in a middle distance race, aided by our mini-race I reckon.
Alas, the 2nd female overtook me in transition (I shouldn’t have had that cup of tea) and had a bike length or two on me by the time I went to exit. But then the real reason for the quick transition became apparent – her shoes were on her bike rather than on her feet (a strategy that elites use to save time, but that I’ve never understood in amateur racing). I’m unconvinced of the advantage – I can’t see how fumbling around with velcro straps with numb fingers while pedalling and avoiding cars and other cyclists is better than the few seconds it took me to get my shoes on on terra firma, without such hazards. Maybe I’m missing the point. Anyway, as she fumbled I took the lead again.
Then in a moment of idiocy I pulled my race number (attached to my race belt) to turn it round onto my back (them’s the rules). Learning point: pull the belt not the number. The number pulled clean off of my race belt, leaving me in a possible disqualification situation – race numbers must be visible during the bike and the run. I decided not to reattach it there and then, as my numb fingers wouldn’t have coped with safety pins at that point in time, and I’d also lose my lead. But I fretted about when I should stop. Sooner or later? I stopped after an hour, when I hoped I’d built up enough of a gap between myself and 2nd place, and would have enough time to take back the lead if she passed me. Fortunately she didn’t pass me while I was stopped, but I then must’ve got complacent and eased off a bit, as she passed me a few km later. Dang. That gave me the wake-up call I needed, so I quickly regained the lead and kept my foot down (metaphorically only of course, as it may have hindered my cycling otherwise) for the remaining lap and a bit (50 km or so). Not that I’m competitive or owt. I completed the 90 km cycle in 2:50:35, 4 minutes quicker than last year, and still 1st female (but now 23rd overall – so 14 men had overtaken me ☹).
This whole race was going rather oddly. I’ve never led a race before, even for a small part, and here I had led virtually the whole way. Could I keep this up? How far were the nearest females behind, andwould they catch me on the run? I had the unpleasant sensation of being chased down – the stuff I used to have recurring nightmares about as a child (involving wolves rather than female triathletes), and the sensation that always used to panic me when I started swim training in busy lanes back in 2009. I was nervous.
With the three lap out-and-back run course I knew I’d get a first look at my chasers when I was heading back in from the first lap. I worked out the 2nd lady was 7 minutes behind me, which seemed pretty safe, unless she was a demon runner. I’d know by the next lap whether she was gaining on me or I was pulling away. Until then I had to knuckle down, keep up the pace and remember to take gels to keep my energy up. My running felt good – spurred on by the mental boost of being first, and having my parents atop one of the hills to cheer me onwards. The support from the other spectators was also great, and much appreciated. (I gave some complete strangers a hug after as they’d been so great.)
The next time I clocked the 2nd lady she was 8 minutes behind. Phew. I had this. Now to just keep putting one foot in front of the other for the remaining 8 or 9 km, and watch I didn’t go over on an ankle on the rough bit through the golf course. Just. Keep. Going. It was thrilling to run towards the finish gantry knowing I was going to win. So I cartwheeled across the line – something the commentator had been encouraging the previous day’s sprint triathletes to do, but he perhaps hadn’t expected for the middle distance race. It was not my best ever cartwheel. But it got a cheer. In a show of greater efficiency than any other race I’ve been in I was handed a print-out of my results within 30 seconds of crossing the line! I was amazed to see I’d gone sub-5 hours, with a total time of 4:57:50 (although I realised later the run was 2 km shorter than the official middle distance run). My 19 km run had taken 1:30:25 – 4 minutes quicker than last year, and I was 1st female, and, again, 9th overall. Ditto for my overall placing – 1st female and 9th overall – showing I’d raced pretty consistently, and that while I was overtaken by 14 men on the bike course, I similarly overtook 14 men on the run course. If only I could get better at cycling and keep people from overtaking me! All in all it had been a great race for me, summed up in this post-race interview. AND this year there was an actual podium!!!