Monday, 14 September 2015

Anglesey Sandman Triathlon 2015

Yep, we were the geeky ones who racked
first. Far too excited.
Sandman, the only slate coaster missing from my coffee table. There was a reason it was the last one of the Welsh Always Aim High triathlon series I'd signed up for, two in fact, it was a sea swim and a flat bike course. Those two reasons however, were the magic words needed to get Lizzie to come with me. It wasn't until she was all paid up and entered that I had to confess there would also be a 10km trail run on mostly sand (her fault really, she hadn't even questioned the name).

We stood on Newborough beach enjoying a breakfast bap and surveying the territory on the morning of the race. The sea was not flat. It wasn't completely horrendous either but I was already immensely looking forward to it being over.

After the race briefing we began the long walk down the beach to the ominous sound of distant drums. It felt like a war march, with the beat getting louder and more dramatic as we approached the start. Besides the standard girly strop due to my little feet not being able to walk across the stones ("why couldn't they have raked the beach?", "this is ridiculous, where is the matting?!"), we were in good spirits. The drums were providing an excellent pre-race dance/warm-up opportunity and we didn't have a long wait for the nerves to start kicking in.

We watched the first men's wave sprint daringly into the waves and hilariously when it was time for the yellow-hatted women's wave, the majority of the girls positioned themselves right at the back of the pen. It was all very polite and British. As soon as the countdown ended, all reservations were thrown to the side, race mentality took over and I pegged it into the sea, high knees all the way. I mean all the way, as far as I could possibly get without having to actually swim. Four strokes in and I'd already swallowed far too much sea water. Breast stroke was a better option. Looking around, everyone around me was thinking the same thing. Getting out to the first buoy was disgusting, but once we had cornered and started the main swim, it was much easier to get into a rhythm.

I amused myself for at least ten minutes as I swam right next the same girl for ages and we were breathing on one side, looking towards one another with exactly the same rhythm. Little things. Then I realised I'd drifted off course and promised myself I would focus. It was hard to see the buoys but the very visible blue flags filled me with endless joy as I hit the final section.

The support up to transition was amazing, a big crowd had built up funneling us up over the sand. As if it isn't hard enough to balance when you come out of a sea swim, AAH make you run up a little sand hill, those blighters.

Getting out on the bike was a dream. The sea breeze providing a very welcome tailwind all the way up the hill. I was so excited about the combination of cycling/climbing/not swimming/the sun now being out that I forgot to drink anything and it wasn't until the road flattened out at the top that I took a big swig to get rid of salty mouth. The mouthful I wholeheartedly took was substantially more voluminous than that of my mouth, so apologies to all those spectators at the peak of the climb who saw a quite horrendous combination of spitting, choking and dribbling.

The first half of the bike went by in a flash. It didn't feel especially like a tailwind but it was quick. What I was expecting to be a really flat course had plenty enough undulation to keep a hill-lover satisfied and the roads were reasonably clear of traffic. What I always love about all triathlons in North Wales is how the local community are out in force, cheering from their doorsteps. What I loved even more about Anglesey is that the views were spectacular; every turn gave a glimpse of the sea or of far-flung mountains.

At 37 kilometres the course hung a left up over a couple of roundabouts and the wind smacked us clean in the face. Up ahead I could see people suddenly working much harder and that was the way it remained for the rest of the bike. I was starting to tire and my pace was slowing. My 'I don't need food' strategy had failed. The gears were dropping and dropping and I was being overtaken left, right and centre. With 8km left to go, a very friendly lady pootled past and exclaimed "well-ridden!" at me. Of course what I wanted to respond was, "This is not riding well you fool! This is the first time I have ever hit the wall and I don't want to hear your light-hearted happiness you silly woman!!!". I chose to go with, "Thanks, you too".

You wouldn't have known it was a downhill finish to T2. Getting back to the beach against the wind was hard going and I - for the first time ever - was really pleased to be finishing the bike.

I had nothing left for the run. It was without doubt the worst triathlon run I have ever completed. The course was amazing; sandy forest trails, long and gentle climbs, it was perfect terrain for me on any other day. I stopped, I walked, I ate my whole packet of Shot Bloks hoping the sugar would get through. I tottered on and stopped for a couple of minutes at the feed station to fill up on water. I felt utterly horrendous. You know when the marshals tilt their head sympathetically and tell you you're going to be okay that you probably don't look at your best.

I plodded along the final track towards the beach. I'd found a nice man to have a chat to and I was looking at the stunning view of Snowdonia across the water. I didn't care about my position at that point or that I was having a duff run, I was completely blown away by the beautiful scenery and this awesome place we were able to race in.

The final stretch along the sandy, pebbled beach was sapping the last bits of energy from the legs, just one more little sandy rise led to the finish and I have never been more pleased for a race to end. The Sandman was hugely tougher than I had imagined and I am very, very pleased to be sitting with my feet up and a cuppa on that coaster.

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