Wednesday, 26 March 2014

A Freaky Weekend!

What better way to hit the ground after a month of hard training on camp than a bit of racing? I find  motivation after such a great month can be lacking. In a physically and mentally fatigued state, the sudden return to cold weather, the ton of mail and endless list of mundane tasks to get on top of coupled with the lack of daily company can be very depressing. So, pre-empting my Post Camp Blues, I created a few distractions for myself on the weekend after our return. Starting with the Swimmathon on Friday evening at Milfield School, a chance to swim in their beautiful 50m pool and a good way of pushing myself back into the routine of swimming up lanes after a month of fairly short open water swims in a wetsuit. It is also a good way to ensure that I complete the 5km "set" …and someone keeps count for me. I wasn't especially pleased or surprised at my time for this - would have liked to have been faster of course, but  making allowances for my lack of recent swim training and general fatigue from the camps I'd taken it pretty steady. I initially felt lucky to have a lane all to myself (who in their right mind spends their Friday evening swimming??), but after about 1km started to get bored and missed having people to pace of and work with.

Home for steak wine and holiday photos with my Mum who's been away on a Caribbean cruise…and a long due lie-in the next morning before Parkrun. The conditions have improved vastly since I last raced it back in Feburary - the course of our local Parkrun is on the town's floodplains, and they have been well utilised this year with many sections of deep mud and ankle deep puddles, with a few weeks when the entire area was feet deep in water (the run was cancelled on these occasions! )  - so I was expecting some faster times at the front of the field. So it proved to be, although this week I was not contributing to those…probably the lack of warm up maybe played a part in that ( normally I have a 6km run to the start) but more likely being out of practice of running that hard, combined with a slight feeling that I ought save something for the weekend's main event: The Peaky Freaky Duathlon the next day. But, it was good to be back there and see all the local runners I have got to know through this well-orgaised and social event and have a fast hit-out to remember what it's like!!

After a short ride on my race bike, fitted with Airstreeem wheel set that I planned to use for the Duathlon, the afternoon was spent trying to figure out a clever method of strapping my run shoes to my bike for fast transitions in the point -to-point-to -point-to- point format race. Unable to come up with exactly the right arrangement for ease, speed and confidence that I'd not loose a shoe part way round the race,  I opted for the less speedy but simple and reliable "bag on the back" method.

The Peaky Freaky was to be my first multispot race of the year , and is a quirky event put on by local race organisation Freak Events. They run several high quality triathlon races through the summer, as well as open water swim training down in Devon and a half marathon in the autumn. This is their first event of the year, and to break us in gently ( ha!!) the freaky format is a 60km bike on a very flat route around Somerset's levels, interspersed with 3 short fell runs up local Peaks. With a relatively small field of about 80 for this rather unusual endurance challenge, they manage to combine a wonderfully friendly and low-key atmosphere with superb organisation, a high standard of marshalling and support, a competitive field as well as a "Peakless" event for novices, and great value for competitors.

My Race Report:
Starnding in the carpark of the Webbington Hotel, race HQ for the day, you can survey the landscape and distinctly see the Peaks that we will ride to , and then run up…with the largest of them behind us - that familiar "peaked" hill that you see as you drive north from Bridgewater on the M5, Crooks Peak. The race starts with a long, flat bike leg (36km) from the Webbington Hotel, south through Cheddar and Wedmore, before turning west towards Weston-super-Mare alone the Mark causeway. It's a route that I happen to ride a lot in training, and have done many, many interval sessions along the causeway. So much more fun when it's a real race with real competitors - two of whom are club mates who I'd love to beat today, although it'd be down to attrition over the distance rather than speed. For safety reasons the race has a staggered start and Julian, obviously worried about being "chicked",  made a great point of ensuring that we started off in the same wave…..and promptly rode his day-glo bike (one of 14 apparently) of into the distance! James, another club mate, was more shrewd and started in a later wave - that way knowing if he caught me, he was definitely ahead. I wished I'd thought of that!

The conditions for the day were "a bit nippy" and "windy - very windy". In the last few days we've had sunshine interspersed with sudden hailstorms, so we were expecting a bit of everything. Luckily we only got sunshine and wind. I raced in shorts and short sleeve jersey, but kept arm-warmers, gilet, buff and long finger gloves on through the whole race.

The first leg of the ride took just under an hour, I was passed by a few fast guys (some of whom i later learned were doing the bike-only course) but no women. I wished that I'd given my self a later start, since having gone off in the first wave I'd then have no idea whether there was anyone behind running a faster time than I - she'd not have to actually catch or pass me to beat me. so, instead I just focused on making it as hard as possible for that to happen.

It felt like I was faffing around in transition for an age with my run shoes in the bag and all that …but i checked splits on the results sheets after the event and it was only actually about 40 seconds each time. James had opted to ride on flat pedals in his run shoes, and managed his turn-arounds in just 20 seconds…I'm not convinced that the 20 seconds saved made up for the loss of power on the bike. Mind you…as we exited the first transition at Brent Knoll, he passed me having ridden 2 minutes quicker, so I guess it worked for him!

Given that it was billed as the easiest of the three, I was kinda shocked at how steep the run was! In fact, I walked up bits of it. And down bits of it, too. Marshals "dobbed" (their term) us on the back of the hand with a marker when we got to the turn around at the top - a col way to ensure that everyone did the full course since I doing  there is no shorter way to get between the peaks than as per the designated race route. james and I finished that first run together, though he was off and away on the next section of cycling before I got out of tradition. I guess that 20seconds is enough to be out of sight - a crucial distance in a race.

The second ride was more head-windy than the first, though only 12km. I battled with my shoe bag which kept blowing sideways and hitting my leg as I rode, and worried about the next run. I was pretty much all on my own at this time and going through a bit of a bad patch. We rode through Breem and it smelled of chips.. I wished I was on holiday, easting chips for breakfast  - which just shows how rough I was feeling, that I was dreaming of a caravanning holiday!

The next run was up Breem Head to the fort but after the first short steep section, was actually a lot nicer and easier than Brent Knoll, as we ran along the cliff top with incredible views over the Bristol Channel. The route was sort of circular so i did not see James or Julian ahead, and assumed them long gone. I just caught sight of second woman, but was unable to judge how far behind she was in actual terms ( I thought about 3 minutes) never mind in relation to her own start time, which I figured could be 4or5 minutes. Anyway,  it did not seem like enough and that gave me a bit of extra boost to push the last cycling section. The tail wind helped a bit too!

The third leg of the bike should have had a tailwind most of the way, but of course it never quite works like that! There was also a slightly more hilly bit of riding as we made outs way back to the Webbington through the lanes. I can tell when my legs are tired when I find myself unable to climb in the saddle, and I was taking all of these hills standing up on the pedals. Luckily, only one more run to do.

Crooks Peak is the big one - the longest run and the highest peak. We started with a mile or so along the road, before picking up a Bridalway, which became progressively steeper as it turned into a footpath and then just a grass bank, studded with flints. I was racing in my new Sketchers GoBionic Trail shoes which proved a superb combination of tread and flexibility in a light-weight shoe, and are as comfortable running at speed on tarmac as they are wading through mud or running up grass banks. That last open section, where we could see all the way to the distinctive "peak" ahead of us, was run directly ito the teeth of the cold wind. It felt like such a battle - and indeed it was! I could see Carl, one of Julians friends who'd put a lot of distance into me in the early part of the race, walking just ahead of me, and passed him. The race leaders were bombing down the hill back towards the finish, and a few moments later, Julian appeared, as one of them…but not as far ahead as I'd expected. After what felt like an incredibly long time running slowly up the hill, and getting only ever fractionally closer to the top, a saw James, just making the turn - he'd lost some ground to me through the course of the 3-hour event. That's a great thing about endurance training  - I might not be fast, but I do tend to slow less! I was hoping that this would be true against the female's field - there was £150 prize to be had, which is well worth the journey! Once finally at the top and refusing the sweetie offered to me as I got "dobbed" for the last time  (I was proper dobbed by that point!) , the wind was at my back and i felt like one big jump i'd be able to sail down the hill. Not quite but it was great fun hurtling down the grassy bank. Almost missed a turning at the bottom ("back the way you came" may be a perfectly reasonable description in general, but doesn't work so well during a race, I find) then had to crank it along the road to the finish to make up for the few lost seconds and in effort to secure the win.

In 3 hours and 3 minutes with not much change i placed 6th overall, with my club mates and rivals Julian and James 5th and 4th respectively, both just under 3 hours and within 20 seconds of one another  and placing 2nd and 1st in the Vets category. Perhaps if they'd started in the same wave, it might have been different? Second female was Lisa Picton in 3:10 …it was closer than comfortable, but not as close as i'd feared out on the course. Looking at the results I was putting small amount of time into her on each leg - including the transitions - until that last transition and run where she must have sniffed the line, put on the afterburners and reduced the gap a bit.

Thankfully the sun shown all day, we were fed soup and sandwiches and socialised whilst waiting for the final finishers and prize givings. A great event, and I do hope that Jarad wasn't joking about the possibility of doubling it up next year  - racing once forwards and once backwards around the route. That would make air a whole different prospect though…with people taking between 5 and 10 hours to finish, logistically extremely tough to organise, let alone race!

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