Monday, July 03, 2017

Edinburgh 70.3 - Brutal

Back in the winter, they announced that a new 70.3 Ironman race was coming to Edinburgh. Oooh, I thought. I know people up there, let's enter! I didn't even bother to look at the race profile or think about it any further. As the days got closer, stories of a very technical bike course with a 17% descent began to fill me with apprehension...

Race day dawned bright but cold and windy. So windy that the waves had white horses and they had already warned us that the swim might be shortened due to the conditions.
Looking over the swim course with a rainbow
Dark clouds were coming in from Edinburgh but we didn't get any rain, just rainbows. Eventually they told us that they were shortening the swim for both age groupers and pros to 900 m as the water temperature was wavering around 12 degrees and due to safety considerations. Race start was self seeding so I placed myself around 3/4 of the way back as I knew I wouldn't be the fastest out of the water. I was so grateful that Andy was there as well - fellow Greenwich Triton - although swim start was the only time I would see him on the race course that day!
Andy and I at the start... looking remarkably cheery

When we finally got in the water - after being buffeted by the cold wind for a good hour or so - it was cold  but my first concern was the giant waves! I have never seen anything quite like it! I took a couple of mouthfuls of sea water before I realised that I was going to have to do breastroke every few front crawl strokes to a) actually be able to breathe and b) see where I was going. I used to surf in the sea in Cornwall but I've never had to race under such conditions. I can tell you it was a relief to get to the end buoy and turn around to come back. It was absolutely brutal. I could see people hanging on to kayaks and one guy being driven back to shore on a boat and absolutely understood why they didn't feel they could swim any more. I just kept slogging on through the waves, trying not to breathe in too much water and finally made it to the last orange buoy and - what relief - swam into shore. It was only when I started scrambling up the beach did I notice my feet were totally numb... I was told later that 40-60 people started the swim but had to either be rescued or gave up even trying to get to the first buoy.

I ran into transition, trying to get some warmth back into my body, and started faffing with my stuff. I seem to have joined the Gary Shaw Transition Academy because it took me 9 minutes to get through transition to my bike... For next time I think I need a) those compression socks so that I don't have to faff with socks and calf guards (if it's cold again); b) gloves that have velcro instead of being so tight it's a battle to get them on; and c) consider putting any nutrition I don't want in the bento box in my trisuit before I start the swim.
Happy on the bike!
On to the bike then, and the first part was a nice easy flat stretch of road along the sea which put you into a false sense of "well this is nice, let's power on through"... Bad idea, and I knew it, because I'd read the cycle recce that Grace/Silent Wolf had posted and knew that there was a very technical loop coming up. I was looking for Garvald/Gifford and soon enough it appeared... not far after a water stop which I ignored because I was planning on only stopping at one (BAD idea!). We went past all the faster cyclists coming the other way and then started the loop. This is where the ride turned into the bastard (apologies!) love child of the Kentish Killer, the VO2 and Malaga. Those of you who aren't Greenwich Tritons, you may not get these references but essentially it was hilly with some wicked descents and climbs like the Kentish Killer, the views of the VO2 but prettier and the winds - oh the winds - of Malaga. The wind which had whipped up the sea seemed to be deciding it was going to make our lives difficult on the bike as well, and there were a few points where I caught a cross wind and wobbled a little! When the sun came out it was warm but when it went in I did wish I'd packed my arm warmers in the transition bag! I was extremely grateful for all the training rides I'd done in Kent which more than anything made me feel like I could get through this. I saw so many people pushing their bikes up some of the hills - and several more saying, "Not another hill!". About half way through the Gifford/Garvald loop I ran out of water which was bad so next time I am definitely going to stop at the water stop and fill up again. I didn't really understand though why they only half filled the electrolyte bottles... The spectators were amazing and, even though we essentially closed down their villages for the day, they were out cheering even us the slower ones on to the finish. I was particularly amused by the Cockenzie cheerers who appeared to have taken the pots from their trangias and were "playing" them with wooden spoons!
I finally found the second water stop and gratefully took on some water and electrolyte drink. A guy behind me started to voice concerns about the cut off points. I thought, never mind that, let's just get through the next 40 km. They promised it would be downhill from there, but they were lying... We went through someone's estate which was very bizarre but a nice track, before making our way into town. We even ended up on a footpath at one stage, and a very tricky downhill followed by a tight turn into an uphill, which luckily I had changed down for but I think it caught quite a few people out - I'm so used to the inevitability of an uphill after a downhill that I was prepared! I was so glad when my bike computer told me we had 10 km to go and I could see Arthur's Seat looming in the distance. When we got into the park (and once again been falsely told it was all downhill from there!) we could see runners coming the other way who were cheering us on. Once again we had to climb yet ANOTHER hill to get round the back of Arthur's Seat and then finally a sweet downhill to transition. I'd made it in time before the cut off - somehow. I'd half hoped that I might not make the cut off so I didn't have to get running, but once again I'd managed to make it in time.
Suffering on the run
So out on the run and my woes were not behind me. Running is - and always will be - my weakest leg. I had pretty much left my heart out on the bike course and I was exhausted. The first loop was busy, with lots of other runners and people cheering us on. I did quite a lot of walking as for some reason I'd managed to get myself into panic breathing mode and felt like I couldn't breathe at all. So I tried to take some deep breaths and slowed myself down to try and wash some of the panic away. It really didn't help for most of my first lap, and I did just over 6 km in an hour... as I said I'm not a great runner. The run seemed to involve lots of hills, including a trip through a very dark tunnel - the Innocent railway - which had lights and music at the end to help us on our way! There were all these marker boards telling us how far we had got - which was extremely unhelpful when you're on your first lap and it's telling you how far it was on the third lap! The second lap was much quieter and I was aware that if I didn't complete it within an hour I'd be cut off, so I tried harder to run and - thankfully - the panic breathing attacks eased. By this stage it seemed that all the marshalls knew my name so were cheering me on which was a massive boost and helped to spur me on and keep me running as much as I could. My hip started to twinge a bit - during training I've been having such bad hip issues I've had to limp home half way through my run sessions - so I stopped to walk for a bit for that as well. Somehow I managed to make it round the second lap within the cut off time - again! and started out on what was quite a lonely third lap. I say that but on this lap the support was totally off the scale. I'd never seen anything like it in all the races I've been to. Even the marshalls running towards me with water to help me through my race and the lady who'd clearly been standing at the very last turn for hours jiggling around and cheering us on - thank you from the bottom of my heart. From that turning I was the last runner so I was joined by a couple of cyclists and then I became aware of the triathlon official who was also following me. When I ran, he ran, and when my breathing or my hip stopped me, he walked with me. It cheered me up no end - even though I was last - and once I was out of the tunnel I did start to run again and managed to catch a couple of people who had started to struggle. The official stuck with me even though I had overtaken them until he decided that I was definitely on the move and was getting closer to the finish line. Once I knew I was getting closer (it's all downhill from here - yeah right!) I pretty much ran the whole way knowing it was nearly over. Then there was the iconic finishing straight with the red carpet and the Ironman chute... I was so happy I could almost cry. I had done it! I was the last lady but I had finished.

Yay finished!

Afterwards I discovered that around 40 people had not finished their swim, and that over 100 had not finished the race. Several had not made the cutoffs. Apparently some were saying it was the toughest course they had ever raced - even worse than Wimbleball!

I did wake up this morning thinking, well what's next? The answer to this of course is Ironman Copenhagen. Will I be able to sort my breathing issues out before then? I very much hope so. I'll be back on the training and long rides later this week no doubt.

Some (slightly dull) thank yous:
Stuart - thank you to my lovely husband for all your support and help. I don't think I would have made it round the run without your encouragement.

Rebeca - thank you for being a riding buddy and showing me some new routes and especially for my treat ride round Ashdown Forest for my birthday. Also for showing me the "deer park" ride which I have been using and might well be using for quite a lot of my practice rides! I am very grateful that you dragged me out of bed and found some "magic beans" to encourage me to come out for a ride.

Andy - for being a fellow Triton in a strange town and cycling with me to T1, it was great to have a friend at the start and during the Saturday faffing around.

Thea - for being a great swim buddy and waiting for me even though you're a much better swimmer than I.

Lucy - for helping me with my core strength so I could actually feed myself on the bike.

To all my fellow Tritons - I'm going to forget someone but particular thanks to Gary, Scott, Jim (for his coaching help), and of course Coach W.

To the supporters and marshalls on the course - THANK YOU for all of your support and massive cheering - you have no idea how much it helped. Especially to the official who ran with me at the end which really spurred me on to start running to the finish.

The Ironman Edinburgh 70.3 Facebook page - especially Grace and Silent Wolf for all of your recce guides and help and support over the past few months. It really helped me prepare for the race and made me aware of the dangers!

My lovely godfather - who let us stay in his apartment even though he wasn't there for the majority of the weekend.

If you'd like to support me towards my Ironman goal I'd love for you to give towards the Stroke Association Thank you! 

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