Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Wobbling Through Wimbleball

I wasn't sure I'd make it to the start line of Wimbleball. A recent series of setbacks and unfortunate events has had me feeling a bit deflated and lacking the usual Egg enthusiasm. My 'warm-up' race at Swanage three weeks before was - without going into too much detail - something of a gastric catastrophe and my confidence started to wane considerably.

The extended taper was a bit of an enforced one, which may or may not have been a good thing; pretty much all planned activity was replaced with sleeping and/or eating cake. Perhaps slightly less cake and slightly more of any other foods would have been better pre-race nutrition, but I think my body is fairly well accustomed to converting cake into energy.

A couple of days before the race I looked back at my training log from the last four months and subsequently gave myself a very stern talking to. I may not have been as ready as I wanted to be and I might not be able to go quite as fast as I'd hoped but the general fitness was there and I had certainly done enough that I'd be able to finish the thing!

Home-made bento box excitement
I intended to buy two things at the expo: compression socks and a new bento box (the little box the sits on your top tube for storing food) as mine had fallen apart. Compression socks were a goer, with the only major issue being whether to buy green to match my tri suit, or yellow to match my bike and trainers. Bento boxes however, were nowhere to be found and I soon became concerned that my nutrition plan was going to go out the window. My sister (and chief supporter) came up with the genius idea of making one, and an inspired design engineer, Leo emerged from his tent very shortly afterwards with a perfectly fitting device made from cardboard and electrical tape. I set about carefully loading in pieces of squished malt loaf, oaty cereal bars and jelly babies, enough to have a little munch every ten minutes whilst on the bike.

I was awake especially early on race day and was absolutely delighted to see blue sky having been under a blanket of thick grey clouds and heavy rain for two days. Breakfast number one was consumed, the lovely box of food was strapped to the bike, tyres were checked, breakfast number two was consumed and race kit was on and ready with numbers and everything by about 5:45. Weirdly, I felt very calm about the whole thing; I still had times in my head that I thought were achievable but I had settled in to the fact that I would just do what I could do.

The start was delayed and once we were finally in the actual lake, we were waiting for over ten minutes to get going. I was suddenly aware during that time that I could really have done with another wee, so I spent my time trying to 'warm myself up', but to no avail! I didn't really know what was going on at the beginning, we all sung the national anthem then the race just began with no warning. I had placed myself right in the middle and was being squashed from every angle. Within five minutes I had been smacked in the face twice, but at least both times by very apologetic men. All in all though, the swim felt like it was going ok: I thought I was swimming in a vaguely straight line and wasn't getting too battered by everybody else. At the far buoy I felt alright except for the now very urgent matter of needing to wee. Obviously I didn't want to stop and really focus, but weeing whilst swimming is not an easy skill and not one I had practised. I spent the entire second half of the swim trying to hold my breath a bit and squeeze, it wasn't until the final buoy that I managed to relax enough and then it was a bit of a race against the clock to get it all out before I had to stand up and start running!
Chasing Rosie out of T1

I emerged from the lake at the same time as STC team mate, Rosie, and tottered up towards T1 feeling pretty good. That was until I tried to pull my wetsuit off and realised I had actually lost all motor function in my hands from the cold. It took me a whole eight and a half minutes to make myself bike ready, about 5 of which was trying to buckle up my helmet!

The bike course leads straight onto an uphill slog and within a mile my hands had warmed up enough to change gear. I was overtaking left, right and centre on the narrow lane leading away from the lake and as soon as we hit the main road, I started trying to crank out a bit more power.

The first feed station came and I nearly threw myself off my bike whilst trying to accurately throw my current bottle in the bin (another skill to practise..) before grabbing a fresh one. Shortly after, at around 13 miles, you hit a major descent. A really fast one. It's a no overtaking zone so you have to just hope you're not stuck behind a wussy cyclist. It was at this point that something truly terrible happened. The sheer speed of the descent combined with the not-brilliant quality of tarmac exposed a fatal design flaw in my bento box: the lack of a lid. Food was bouncing out in every direction and by the time I reached the bottom I was left with just two jelly babies and a teeny chunk of oat bar. Those of you that know me know that I am a very hungry girl; two jelly babies and a few oaty crumbs simply was not going to satisfy my appetite.

I slowed down as much as possible at each feed station to try to grab two halves of a powerbar and a fresh bottle of gatorade at each one but by the second lap, I was slowing down and starting to struggle. The hilly section of the second lap felt like really hard work, I was filled with relief when I eventually turned back in on the road to the lake. The relief was short-lived though, it seemed to just keep going up forever. I was certain we had climbed to get out of the lake so I was very confused how we were climbing to get back in as well but I had more pressing concerns than the elevation mysteries of Exmoor, four bottles of gatorade down and I definitely hadn't had the energy (or the inclination) to attempt weeing on the bike. I ran in and racked my bike only to see Rosie running in just behind me, but no matter how much I wanted to stay in front, the portaloo was a compulsory stop.

T2 (minus the very long wee) was a lot more successful than the previous transition and I managed to get out just ahead of my new arch nemesis. As soon as I started running I knew it was going to be a hard couple of hours, my legs were aching already and I was still hungry. I grabbed a gel from the first feed station but something strange was happening to my body and I couldn't stomach it.

On the first lap, finishing seemed like it was a long way away but the support around the course from family and fellow Salisbury folk was amazing and did wonders for lifting my spirits. The hills were absolutely brutal on tired legs and my average pace just kept slipping down. On the second lap, I knew I must have been struggling because the pepsi on the feed stations started to seem like a good idea. Whoever originally thought  that drinking pepsi when running was clearly mad, but a mad genius. Those sugar highs kept me going and I managed to keep plodding my way around. I feel like I did the whole run in slow motion, my legs were so heavy and the only indication I had that I was doing okay was that I was picking a few people off on the hills.

A sign indicated that I only had 5k to go. I glanced at my watch and thought "all you have to do is run a 30 minute 5k and you'll make 6:45", but at that stage, running a 30 minute 5k seemed so difficult! I got up the final hill and was on the home straight, summoning up just enough energy to lift my legs from a shuffle to a run for the finishing chute.

As soon as I stopped and wandered into the finishers area, the sweet aroma of hog roast filled my nostrils and my stomach - it seemed - was suddenly ready and able to take on food again.

So, first 70.3 done and dusted. There are several lessons learnt and lots of improvements to be made, but for now, I sit (and rest) safely in the knowledge that I'm a half ironman.

Finally crossing the line!
The best support crew ever!

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