Slippery slate and wet Welsh hills. . . the Savage returns!

The Slateman Savage was one of my favourite races last year – with epic scenery, great organisation and a whole weekend of racing. Despite not being able to persuade Barney to join me (the small matter of a CFA mock got in the way. . . ) I was keen to make the long journey to North Wales to defend my Slateman Savage title, and see if I could get any closer to the amazing Suzie Richards.

Driving up post work on a Friday evening was never going to be smooth, but it ended up taking me 6.5 hours and I was immensely grateful to be staying at an awesome AirBnB where I was welcomed with a roaring log fire and a cup of tea! One of the nice things about Slateman is the relatively relaxed start time, so the alarm only had to be set for 7am.

Saturday 21st May: The Sprint

Having registered and sorted all my kit out I went to set everything up in transition. Having expected Saturday to be full on thunderstorms I thought we might get lucky, with the sun almost being out as I was racking my bike. Well that was a false sense of security – just as I had put my wetsuit on the heavens opened! Fortunately by this time the briefing was over and we were heading down to the water, so my mind was more on how cold the lake would be!

This year all the women were starting together, so I knew at least I would know where I was in comparison to the other competitors, unlike last year! Getting into the lake a few minutes before the fun went off, it was fairly cold but nowhere near as bad as last year – although not sure it was the 13.9 degrees that was mentioned at the briefing! Having splashed my face a bit I was ready when the countdown began, and set off at full speed. The crowd thinned out quickly and I could see a few girls ahead of me, but not many. As I came out the lake, whilst fiddling with my wetsuit I heard Lou telling me I was 4th girl out – result! I had a relatively quick transition, fortunately not being as light headed as last year, and was soon out on the bike.

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The roads were so wet! Fortunately the first section was just climbing up the pass, which I took fairly steadily (bearing in mind I had to do it again tomorrow!), but also trying to keep count of how many girls I was passing. Coming over the top and I was cautious on the first descent down (maybe too cautious – definitely something I need to work on!), and despite getting pretty chilly the bike was soon over and I was relieved to have made it back to T2 in one piece.

Onto the run – the sprint run takes you almost immediately up a steep hill through the forest – a real leg burner! I could feel the 2 70.3 races and a week of not being 100% as I was trying to push up the hill. By this point a couple of the marshalls told me I was 2nd lady, and as I couldn’t see 1st lady anywhere I knew she would be a fair way ahead. With the forest tracks being lethally slippy I was trying to be relatively sensible and not end my race prematurely. Finally, as the sun started to emerge I hit the nice downhill back to the finish, and was relieved to be crossing the line. I wasn’t hugely surprised to be a bit slower than last year, given the bike conditions, but it is slightly frustrating to not be able to see improvements.

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I had a nice chilled afternoon back at the AirBnB, followed by early dinner with some friends I had met at other races, before having a super early night.

Sunday 22nd May: Slateman Full

Waking up, my legs definitely felt better than last year, but obviously not super fresh. I had a good breakfast and got myself back down to transition to set up in good time. Today was originally meant to be nice weather, and I was looking forward to enjoying the bike leg without being as cautious. However, it soon became apparent that the weather was going to be similar to yesterday! Thankfully I was able to make use of my DryRobe, which was an absolute godsend!

I had a great chat with Suzie whilst we were waiting for the start – it really is one of the great things about the sport – the amount of truly humble, inspiring people you meet, full of energy and enthusiasm and so willing to share tips and encouragement. My plan was to try and stick near her in the swim and see what happened for the rest of the race. The start of the full was a bit more hectic than yesterday, with more competitors, and I knew the cold would hit a bit more with the full 1k swim. I got into a good rhythm, not quite managing to get onto speedy feet but feeling good nevertheless. As I emerged from the lake I saw Suzie getting out alongside me – result! Part 1 of race strategy had gone to plan.

Transition was relatively smooth and soon I was heading back out to the familiar climb in the rain. Suzie was just ahead of me and a few metres in she was having to stop to sort out her shoes – I was hoping this would give me a tiny gap I could take advantage of! Going up the hill I could definitely feel yesterdays efforts in the legs, however I was just trying to stick to good power, and then try and man up a bit on the descents. As we approached the top of the pass Suzie came powering past – I stuck with her to the top but then chickened out when I saw her get onto her aerobars for the descent!

The rest of the bike course is truly glorious – long sweeping roads you can get some serious speed up, a few tight turns but generally not too technical. I lost sight of Suzie quickly and then just focused on keeping to my power. About 25k in I started getting quite cold, and was trying to think of anything warm to take my mind off it! Finally we were coming into T2.

T2 was a slight disaster – my hands were too cold to get my helmet off and I had to get help from a marshall. I couldn’t feel my feet so putting my trainers on was also interesting! Got off onto the run after what seemed like an age, and was very glad of the nice flat bit (post the initial hill!) to get a bit of speed an rhythm and warm up! Before I knew it I had hit the slate zig zags, and I knew it was a pretty long drag up – however the scenery is awesome, and there was some great support up the hill as well. Coming down through the forest I wasn’t feeling very nimble – fell style running is definitely not my forte!

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Just over 1k out I could hear the commentator announcing Suzie coming over the line – utterly amazing performance from her, especially considering how recently she has been able to run pain free again. One day hopefully I will be more mountain goat like. . .

I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend as always – the Always Aim High guys put on a great event, the crowds were brilliant especially given the weather, and the course is one of a kind. Lots to build on in the run up to Exmoor 70.3.

 

“British summer” race out in Mallorca

Post Fuerteventura, I had a few days of very gentle training to give my body a chance to recover, and then picked up a few good training sessions before tapering again in the run up to Mallorca. The weekend between the 2 races we had a great weekend in Newmarket, going to the races and celebrating my mother-in-law’s retirement. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, I was then very sick on the Bank Holiday Monday, so had an enforced rest day to try and get over it quickly. It seemed to pass and by Wednesday I felt normal again.

I flew out to Mallorca Thursday evening after work, and typically the flight was delayed meaning I didn’t arrive at the hotel until 2am. I took advantage of being able to have a relative lie in the next day, before building my bike, registering, getting a spin and swim in and trying to catch up on sleep a bit.

Having had expectations of another lovely sunny race (and choosing to ignore the weather forecasts!), my heart sank waking up Saturday morning and seeing the toerrential rain and wind. Having done my final checks of the bike, topping up my water and ensuring I knew the layout of transition, it was time to head down to the beach for a warmup swim. This was a literal warm up swim with it being fairly cool with the wind and rain. The storm had stirred up what had been clear blue waters the day before, and there was a slight sewage smell hanging around – not the most inviting of swims!

Warmup done, it was time to get in the start pens and watch the pros set off. Finally it was time for the 3700 age groupers to set off. I had put myself fairly near the front, which meant there was a fair amount of space with the Swim Smart start. Immediately it was clear it was fairly choppy (for me anyway – being only my second sea swim triathlon!), and I spend the first few hundred metres trying to find some feet to follow. I felt a sharp pain in my foot, and figured I must have brushed against some sharp debris. Suddenly there was another one on my face, and I realised with dread there must be jellyfish. I had a slight sense of humour failure, wondering what on earth I was doing paying to swim through jellyfish, but not really seeing any option as either way the jellyfish had to be swum through! Spending a fair amount of time swimming with my head out the water, I finally managed to convince myself to man up and just get on with it. After what seemed like an age I was exiting the water, and was amazed to see I was coming out in under 30 minutes. 37_3rd-74990-FT-1283_000895-980064

Up to the enormous transition – as I entered I heard them calling that Sarah Lewis was the first female age grouper, and a couple of other female names, so I figured I must be around 4th place, and not too far behind the leaders. Time to make up some time on the bike! I enjoyed the first section of the bike, it was fairly windy but I felt strong and had soon caught 2 of the women in front of me. As we headed towards the climb I caught Sarah so knew I must be in the lead. Having not been able to recce the course I wasn’t entirely sure how long the climb was – having been told different lengths by different people! There are quite a few flat / downhill bits before finally getting to the top, and the bit I was really dreading – the descent. Not being the most confident of descenders in good conditions, I was extremely cautious heading down. Not so all the men that came flying past, with nearly one coming off at every corner in front of me. As I got towards the bottom I was passed by a couple of women also going very well, but by this point I was freezing cold and shivering fairly violently so was mainly concentrating on staying upright. Finally I came out of the twisty section and was able to put some power down and warm up. I caught up one of the women and was making good progress overtaking quite a few of the men that had caught me on the downhill.

Coming into the run I was disappointed with my bike time of just under 3 hours, but pretty happy to have stayed upright. Time to give it everything on the run! The first 8k went really well, I was managing to hold around 4.00/km pace and feeling good. There was some great support all round the course, in particular the corner where a group from Ful on Tri were stationed and gave me some very loud cheers. Coming into the second lap I was slowing a bit, and feeling the bike effort in my legs. However I soon spied a lady in front, which gave me a boost to try and catch her. Having passed her I saw she was also my age group, so knew I had to put in a good push to try and hold her off. Finally onto the last lap, and as I turned to the finish line I was fairly confident that I had won, as long as the woman I had passed hadn’t started a long time behind on the swim and had had an amazing bike.

Crossing the line was great, I felt I had given it everything and that once again some good consistent training combined with Will’s advice had paid off. Having confirmed that I was the first age grouper, I was over the moon. Qualification for Australia World Champs sorted, and a successful first Ironman branded event.

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There are still some major gains to be had and I am confident that Will can continue to push me to improve throughout the season, whilst also managing my expectations and ensuring I’m not doing too much.

I now have 2 weeks until trying to defend my Slateman Savage title, in what was one of my favourite races last year.

Thanks to Precision Hydration – the Sweat Experts for keeping my cramp at bay, Torq for fuelling me through the whole 5 hours, Trainxhale for helping keep my training on track and providing some good kit and mainly Will Clarke for his awesome coaching!

Race season officially started!

So having missed out on the half marathon and sprint triathlon I had been hoping to do due to injury, Challenge Fuerteventura was my first race of the season, and the first chance to see whether a solid winter’s trainnig had paid off.

I flew out early Friday morning (big thanks to Barney for being my chauffeur at 4.30am!) giving me the afternoon to get myself sorted for the race. Having recently invested in a Scicon Tri bike bag the packing of the bike was a lot easier, and being able to wheel the bag through the airport also helped save my shoulders!

Having checked in, sorted my bike out and registered, I went to meet my coach, Will Clarke (who was also racing) for a swim. We had a good 30m swim just to loosen everything up. I then headed out on a little spin to check the bike was all ok, and was thankful to find it was nowhere near as windy as when I had been out a couple of weeks before (40kmph winds are no fun!).

It was then time to go check our bikes and transition bags in. Being quite a small race (around 200 people) the atmosphere was nice and relaxed, and everything being so close as well made it a lot easier.

Check in done it was time for dinner and bed in preparation! It was great to have Will there to give all his advice about race prep, and see how the pros do it. I managed to get to bed by 10 so had a really great sleep (first one in a long time!). When my alarm went off I was feeling ready to go.

Having had some breakfast, sun creamed up i headed back to transition to top up my water and triple check I had everything I needed in my race bags. I then headed down to swim start to do a little warmup and get ready. As the female field was so small we were starting with the pros, which was a pretty cool experience. My main aim in the swim having done so much swimming over winter was to try and settle into a good rhythm and see what gains I could make. After a slightly frantic start as always, I soon found myself in clear water, not being fast enough to keep up with the speedy pros like Cat Jameson,  but being faster than the other age groupers. I did have a moment of throwing up on the swim going round one of the buoys, but thankfully it wasn’t making me feel ill so I just kept going (sorry if there was anyone right behind me!). Towards the end of the second lap some of the male pros were catching and overtaking me, I tried to hold onto their feet for a bit but they were going much too fast! I came out of the swim, looked down at my watch and it was reading under 28mins, a massive PB for me (last PB was around 33mins), so was feeling good from the start.

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Onto the bike – the long run up from transition I was feeling alright. I took transition in a relaxed manner, wanting to make sure I had all my gels. At this point a pro came running in from the swim, and had a super speedy transition to exit before me! This kicked me into gear a bit so I then ran out to mount my bike. Having not had the chance to scope the bike course properly I knew the first section but not the rest of it. I was trying to just keep to power above 200w and try and make up some time on the bike. However, from the beginning I wasn’t completely feeling it – I didn’t feel bad but I didn’t feel my strongest on the bike. Knowing there were some great roads though I wanted to try and enjoy it as much as possible. About 30mins in Emma Pooley came flying past, around a slightly technical part of the course so I had no chance of staying with her! The first climb is relatively tough, with a fairly windy descent. I am still a massive wimp on the descents, and I’m sure I lost quite a bit of time here. The rest of the bike was quite tough, always some sort of wind it felt like, and very undulating – I had thought the last section was all downhill / flat back but it definitely wasn’t! As we came down the final bit into Las Playitas I saw another female pro just ahead of me, so felt happy to have made up some time on one pro!

Final transition went smoothly and I was out onto the run – a hilly and hot affair! The pro I had caught up coming into transition went flying off, and I knew I couldn’t run at that pace! So I just wanted to run as hard as I could. I saw Will heading in on what was his final lap so gave him a shout of encouragement (not that he needed it – he was flying!). My legs felt ok, and I was managing to hold an alright pace for a hilly course. I was happy to be heading out on the final lap, and having Will give me some words of encouragement coming up to the finish I was able to put on a little sprint coming down the red carpet.

I was happy to finish – great to be first age grouper and not too far behind a couple of the pros. Reflecting back I definitely need to work on my cornering and descending – I am losing too much time there at the moment. But as a first race of the season happy to have had a solid performance, now to build on that for Mallorca! It was also really cool to see Will doing so well, am sure it will be the start of some great results for him.