Right in the middle of the school summer holidays I signed up for this 5km race, which for me is a bit of a challenge as it takes me 5km just to warm up. However I enjoyed this race, especially with my new Nike Zoom Pegasus running shoes which I won in a competition!
The race stared at 7pm at the Village Hall in Marsh Gibbon, just outside Bicester in Oxfordshire, on country roads and had just over half a mile of off-road terrain.
The start was congested and I didn’t have a good start, especially getting clipped by the lady who eventually won. I managed to stay on my feet and tried to close her in, but 10 seconds separated us (and she was 18 years younger than me).
I had a great young lad babysit the kids and a nice evening off doing what makes my blood rush and my heart pump and what I love.
One of my PT clients did the race too and that gave me a boost being able to see their achievements.
I was second lady and second in the county championships. Final 5km run time 18:53.
Many people ask how I fit in training in the school holidays. Well I just make it my priority along with work and looking after the kids full time. I have had some amazing offers of help from friends and their teenage kids. My kids see me putting in hours of training and effort even if they sometimes come down in the morning to see me on the treadmill. Then I stop to sort their breakfast out.
So you can make time for it if you really want to!
I have also been wearing and loving my Sundried Les Rouies women's running vest which has a really flattering fit and is so comfortable and ethical! I love it!
On a chilly Saturday morning earlier this year, I found myself running from zombies. Well, fake zombies, but it felt real enough and was nevertheless very scary! Although I have done a few long distance runs before, I always find I enjoy obstacle running events more, and so when I found out about the Zombie Run I just had to try it out.
I recruited a group of friends, did some training for it and mentally prepared myself for the horror and messiness that I knew would ensue once the race began. Not wanting to ruin any nice clothes in the mud, I dressed in my least favourite clothes, all except for my Sundried sports bra which I can’t live without when running!
The 5k obstacle event featured actors dressed as zombies who had to try and take our tags, which were attached to us on a Velcro belt. Runners get 3 lives and if you manage to finish with at least one in tact, you are crowned a Survivor. If you fail, you finish as 'Infected'. The adrenaline really gets the blood pumping!
We ran through forest and traipsed through deep water, and let’s not forget the mud! We all looked in good need of a bath by the end of it.
Anyone who is up for a bit of a scare should definitely try one of the Zombie Runs, I will be signing up again but bringing a bigger posse with me to calm my nerves!
My first Ironman.
3.8km Swim, 180km Bike, 42.4km Run
The build-up to my first Ironman was a mixture of emotions from nerves to excitement and a constant mind full of questions whirring round in my head. The last few weeks training before the taper were the toughest and as my children broke up for the summer holidays, the routine became more difficult to manage. Nevertheless, I made it to the start line having clocked up thousands of miles in training.
My husband and I arrived in Switzerland on the Thursday and already there was an Ironman atmosphere. Zurich was beautiful but extremely hot. On the Friday, we walked down to the event village to register. I suddenly felt in awe by the whole experience. Registration was easy enough and so was spending money in the expo shop. I picked up my bike which had been shipped over by Ship My Tri Bike – a very convenient option and I took it for a pre-race test ride. The roads were amazing but my legs felt like jelly, however, everything with my Argon was in working order which was a relief. Following the ride, I somehow managed a big rookie error turning up to the French rather than English Race Brief – this didn’t help with pre-race jitters. In an attempt to manage my nerves I decided to go for a swim recce of Lake Zurich. The lake, although beautiful, was vast and much choppier than it looked – very different to the lake back home.
Saturday was a fairly chilled morning pottering around Zurich, trying to keep off the feet as much as possible. The afternoon was spent back the event village racking my bike and hanging my red and blue bags in transition ready for race day. Ironman events have a very different way of doing thigs with the various bags. This requires some careful planning and consideration, but works very well on the day. I took pictures in transition to help visualise the entries and exits, and also took note of landmarks to help find my bike – transition was enormous with bikes packed very tightly and close to one another. Next time I was going to be in transition it would be race day – finally time to take on the challenge that had consumed so much time and emotion in the prior months.
After some sleep and a lot of awake, the alarm went off at 4am. There was a nervous atmosphere at the hotel during breakfast. Lots of acknowledging each other but very little conversation. After coffee and some food, we walked the 30 minutes to transition. I couldn’t believe I had made it to race day. Walking down was eerie and the streets were a mixture of Lycra clad triathletes and the last of the revellers from the night before.
Arriving at transition, I quickly heard that it had been confirmed as non-wetsuit. The size of the challenge ahead suddenly became very real and it took all my efforts to control my emotions at this time. My husband and I walked to the swim start where the atmosphere was surreal. One thing that was very noticeable was the ratio of men to women – I suddenly felt very small. I seeded myself towards the back of the normal swim pen, adding an extra 10 mins to my expected time to reflect the non-wet suit swim. My goal for this event was to complete (not compete); and being non-wetsuit I wanted to find my own space. The race quickly started as the athletes were allowed in the water 8 at a time at 5-second intervals. Off I went into the water. I broke the swim down into the individual marker buoys and soon I settled into a rhythm. It was a one lap course and the back straight seemed to go on forever. As I made the final turn I have never felt more relieved – I had almost made it out of the water!
3.8km swim time: 01:31:43
As I exited the water, I ran into T1, changed into my bike stuff, found my bike, oh dear the chain was hanging off…. It had obviously been knocked as someone had taken their bike. I managed to get it back on and off I went. I had been looking forward to the bike the most in the build-up. The course was 2 laps and started off flat before taking on some climbs in some of the most stunning and picturesque scenery I have seen.
Unfortunately for me, I just couldn’t settle into my usual zone and I quickly became very uncomfortable. I was struggling to stay aero as my chest felt restricted and my neck was very tense. This wasn’t going to plan. The support on the course was fantastic – especially on Heartbreak Hill which was like cycling through a section of the Tour de France. It was also where my hubby was giving me a much needed boost.
As I entered onto the second lap, the temperature was rising (35 degrees); and it became more of a mental battle than physical. I felt nauseous and was having to force nutrition down to try and stick to the plan. The next couple of hours were brutal and after 6 hours and 18 minutes on the bike I made it back to T2 feeling pretty awful.
180km bike time: 06:19:46
I am not 100% sure what took so long but after 8 minutes in T2 I set off for the marathon. Up until recently, the run has always been my favourite and strongest discipline. This was not the case on race day. Every time I ran I felt sick, not helped at all by the heat. The support at the aid stations was superb and they were 100% geared up for the blistering temperatures, giving out ice and cold sponges. Despite this, my body had different ideas and I was sick every few minutes making it very difficult to settle into any rhythm.
I knew now it was going to be a very long afternoon, but there was no way I was giving up – I needed to revert to a different strategy. Walking in a race was alien to me but I knew that I had to find some strategy to get me round, so I settled into running for as long as could and then walking for 3 minutes (whilst throwing up)!
Eventually I made it round the first of the 4 laps which rather cruelly takes you past the red carpet and the finish line. Seeing that and the atmosphere at the end gave me the motivation to keep going. My husband was incredible on the run and kept surprising me by appearing in places which kept me going.
Finally, after a very long and painful few hours, I made it to lap 4 and the end was in sight.. Off I set for my final lap of Zurich… the last couple of kms felt like they took forever but in the distance I could hear the finish line music and being able to collect my fourth band was an amazing feeling. I managed to run the last few kilometres and as I entered into the finish shoot the emotions came flooding in. I saw my hubby in the crowd and heard those famous words – Leanne James – YOU ARE AN IRONMAN.
42.4km run time: 05:26:42
I had made it, finishing in 13:32:46. It was a long way from where I had hoped to finish but I didn’t care. I burst into tears as I met hubby while the events of the day sank in. We then enjoyed the finish line party and it was extremely emotional watching everyone finish their race… all with their own stories and experiences.
A couple of weeks on and it has been great spending time with family and friends with only light training before starting the next block in the build up to IM Weymouth 70.3 and also the ETU Duathlon Championships in Ibiza.
Would I do another Ironman? Absolutely. I learned so much from this race, especially as I am still relatively new to the sport, but for now I will stick to the 70.3s.
As the T-shirt says: 2.2km swim, 118km bike, 20km run, 21 bends, 1 legend. The legendary race – Alpe D’Huez triathlon.
What made me do it? Heaven knows. My friend Simon said he had signed up. But then again many of my friends regularly signed up to similar stuff and that has never really swung a decision for me to do, for example, an Ironman.
I had been thinking of spending some summer training time in the Alps. I knew I was nowhere near adequately prepared for it since I’ve only been training for standard distance triathlon. However – I had completed the Marmotte cycling event and therefore knew what it was like to climb the Alpe D’Huez after a long bike ride, albeit 6 years ago. And I have recently completed a long mountainous sportive in the Pyrenees, although I would never even have considered a run afterwards. My longest run since Brighton marathon in April 2017 was about 13km, and certainly not at altitude. 2.2km swim – well that should be the easy part although apparently the water could be very chilly.
So I entered the race a mere 3 and a half weeks before race day. For most people, that would be nearly taper time. I managed to fit one long hilly bike ride in and a “long” run of about 13km.
It was HOT in the Alps. Temperatures were over 30 degrees Celsius. We were lucky – as we racked our bikes they announced that the water temperature was just over 18. Perfect – I won’t start the bike course with numb feet.
Amazingly as I was racking my bike I saw an old triathlete friend – which really made me appreciate what a small and wonderful community this is.
After racking my bike I went for a last minute loo stop – only 6 portaloos for about 1000 athletes and no chance of loo roll. So I gave myself a 10 minute before race start cut-off for queuing. Still had to get the wetsuit on, so was one of the last to enter the water.
By then the start line was 8 or 9 deep at least and there was literally nowhere to “go wide” for a clear swim, what would be my usual strategy, so I just had to suck it up.
Well, it sucked me up, almost literally. It was near impossible to even start swimming, and around the first buoy I had to just stop and lift my head up, and find my way out of the crowd, because I was going nowhere, the washing machine had taken over. Arms and legs everywhere, in a very disorganised fashion. Which made me think I should remind my head coach that this is why we need to teach people to swim properly with good technique, because everyone will have a much better day for it.
So I swam wide, very wide. A fellow swimmer decided to draft on my inside, side-by-side, and in doing so he kept pushing me further out, clearly not looking where he was going. I found it very annoying to say the least, I guess it’s a free for all, but he clearly wasn’t thinking, just doing. So I lifted my head up and bizarrely he did too and I said angrily shouted at him to get off me, which I think miraculously worked, or perhaps he was just getting tired. After that ordeal I found myself swimming side-by-side with a fellow athlete going at exactly my pace, good technique all round, holding his line, joy, until we lost each other around the last buoy.
Swim done, up the very steep blue-carpet-over-big-rocks ramp into transition, still undecided as what I was going to wear. My tri suit alone would be pretty uncomfortable for a 6 hour plus bike ride in the heat, I’ve only ever worn well cushioned shorts on long rides, and nope, I’m not an Ironman athlete. So I put on a pair of shorts over my tri suit, and decided it was worth digging into the wetsuit bag again for another layer of sunscreen! Didn’t have tri shoes since I preferred the comfort of proper cycling shoes, but I did put on a pair of running socks in anticipation for the run, since I only brought my normal trainers which would most certainly give blisters without socks.
So off I went on the bike. Knowing that this was my worst swim in a race ever, I was very surprised as I climbed the little hill out of transition to look into the lake below and see many many swimmers still in the water and some only starting their 2nd lap of 2.
But, as usual on the bike, it felt like the WHOLE of the field came past me in those first few kilometres, perhaps 100 overtook me for every 1 I overtook. The first bit was quite fast downhill and flat, but knowing how ill prepared I was for the race, I was never going to push too hard, at any point. So I just let them go.
Then we hit the first climb. Beautiful, lush, green, overshadowed by tall trees, we passed a beautiful waterfall twice. It was a long climb though – 14km with a gradient of 7% in most parts, no mean feat.
Then, after about an hour, I reached the summit. I stopped for water, but there were too many people and not enough water at the ready, so I decided to continue, but didn’t quite know how far to the next water point. So when we rode through a little village shortly after at the start of the second climb, I spotted a fountain and decided there and then to risk hopefully clean mountain water over running out of water. Thankfully the second climb was fairly short.
Descents! The only part of a race where I truly overtake other cyclists – just love them. The feeling of flying, the freedom, the how far can you risk it going round a bend. Every time I saw a sign “descente dangereuse” I got just a little excited.
Down through the valley and, have I mentioned the breathtaking scenery? Before the third climb there was a stop with sunscreen. I decided it was time to top up. So I asked the French lady who spoke no English and she literally covered me from head to toe in more sunscreen, and she did all that with the biggest smile ever! Who said the French weren’t nice?
Then, the climb. It started out very gradually and got steeper at the top. It was very exposed and temperatures were soaring by this time. It was gruelling! People were now at the point where they were stopping, getting off their bikes, stretching their legs out; the distance we have done, the heat, the effort, starting to take its toll. But, somehow, I made it through, slowly but surely. Then, another absolutely gorgeous descent, the final one of the day, before the ultimate climb, the famous Alpe D’Huez.
Pen on paper will never do this climb any justice. The only way to put it, is, it’s relentless, no letting off. The 21 switchbacks wind their way in one direction only – up the mountain. After 5 you look down and catch a glimpse of how far you have come in a relatively short space of time, knowing that you’re not even nearly halfway there. The big difference between this and the other climbs is – the traffic! Tourists, supporters, large trucks, all making their way up the mountain, the noise being quite disturbing, but with some gratitude to the supporters playing their music and shouting out their windows “allez allez allez” and “bon courage”. There were a couple of water stops – where the locals were quite happy to drench weary cyclists in water from the hoses, a nice relief on an otherwise hellishly hot climb (according to Garmin maximum temperature of 40 degrees), which provided but short-lasting relief. My heart sang when the signs pointed out that only 10 of the switchbacks remained – over halfway there. If I had the energy I would have done a little dance, but alas, this day was not over yet.
And whilst climbing the scary thought going round my head was – after this gruelling ride there was still a 20km run to deal with, something I had never done before after such a ride. By this point I had made a pact with myself to make it to the finish line, even if I had to walk the 20km, so I resigned myself to start the run by walking, and see how I felt.
Finally, the final switchback and the end in sight. Very relieved to have made it to T2 I changed into running shoes, donned a visor and started the walk. My legs were not feeling great at this point. But, after a couple of hundred metres, I managed to find the energy to jog slowly. I decided another top-up of suntan lotion was in order, this time I had 2 people tending to me.
There were signs at each kilometre and it was a 3 – lap run, so I just started to break it down to myself, at the first turning point I thought, 1/6th of the way there, after 5km, a quarter, and so on. I walked whenever I needed to (mainly on the uphills) and sometimes when I didn’t even need to. It was late afternoon on top of the mountain, and thankfully a little cooler. My stomach started cramping but it was bearable. Chatting away to fellow runners along the way, appreciating the wonderful French support, it all made the time pass fairly quickly even though in reality it was my slowest ever 20km by a very long way. I was surprised that the altitude didn’t have an enormous effect on me, I barely noticed it, but it could be due to the slow pace. Finally, the last turn into the finishing straight. I ticked off a couple of women who had come past me in the last lap, and decided I’d do my best to finish strong. And then, the finish line. I knew it would be emotional, and it was. I hugged a couple of fellow athletes, and was very very pleased to see my friend Simon waiting just beyond the barrier. As it turned out, he started late due to having to go back to the hotel to pick up his forgotten bike shoes and helmet, and didn’t manage to catch up enough to make it to the top of Alpe D’Huez before the cut-off time. I was gutted for him!
Back to T2 to pick up the bike. I could barely consider getting back on the bike, even though it was only a wonderful descent back to the hotel. Eventually I did though, and it felt like the reward to the day, cycling down the Alpe D’Huez, in a stunning sunset setting, the road to myself, going as fast as I dared, feeling the freedom. The best possible way to end the day.
As I cycled and ran all the teachings from this experience were circling in my thoughts:
- Unless you're perfectly prepared for an event – pace yourself appropriately, don’t get carried away by what anyone else is doing.
- Good advice from a fellow athlete: “tough it out”.
- Know your strengths and abilities, but more so, know your weaknesses and limitations, and work within that.
- There is no shame in walking.
- Running socks are actually not very comfortable in cycling shoes.
- Wear sunscreen.
- The French are actually very very nice, despite popular opinion.
- Get to the race early enough to cater for unforeseen eventualities.
- Find your place in the swim start, preferably before the swim start.
- Sometimes, just sometimes, do something out of your comfort zone that will challenge you mentally, physically and even spiritually.
- Train properly for the event you will be doing.
About the author: Christine Lutsch is a Team GB Age Group triathlete and Sundried ambassador.
Not every triathlon is a race, not every triathlon allows for PBs; sometimes a very special challenge can leave behind ripples with those who take part. Caderman, set in the stunning Snowdonia National Park, Wales, is one of those special challenges. How I feel about it now is so different to how I did before competing and I’d like to share how it all changed.
It all started a year ago
My wife, Kate, saw an advert for the Caderman Triathlon and with a “you should do that” I clicked the link. 600m sea swim, yep can do that; 36km bike, can do that too although sounds hilly; 5km run to summit Cadair Idris…. wow, I'm out!
However, it didn’t escape my mind; something about it all drew me in. Luckily, to save face, it clashed with a pre-booked holiday. Fast forward to earlier this year, I was making the crucial selection of which events I was aiming for and Caderman was there. I didn’t hesitate, I just booked it.
Having competed in triathlons for a few years I have always felt it was unjustified to use it as a charity fund-raising reason. Caderman once again is different - this is obviously a challenge not a race, and one that I would say "not normal people" find enticing. This was my introduction to Bloodwise, a blood cancer charity, and the work they do. I am not affected by blood cancer directly in any way but seeing the responsibilities Bloodwise take on I was committed to the cause.
So, as the season progressed, race day of the 4th August came ever closer. I should have been tailoring my training to be at my strongest with 5 weeks to go to race day, but things don't always work out. Performing a cartwheel over a speed bump on a bike took training down to zero. The month before the challenge became recovery, rest, ice and worrying that the commitment couldn't be followed through. I had visions of being removed from the mountain by helicopter, sucking up emergency service resources because of my persistence to go ahead against common sense!
Two weeks before the race, I managed to swim, run and cycle with post-workout swelling but not much more; "I'm going to do it" I announced, but first, more rest. I hadn't gone into a triathlon so physically unprepared before; I turned hopes of a sub 3 hour time to hopes of completion.
I was travelling with my supportive family-and-friends entourage; as we neared Dolgellau the mountain peaks were hidden in cloud. The event registration was not anywhere near the start or finish, as odd as this may seem it provided a well-organised, relaxed location; great facilities to get ready for the day.
All athletes had their bikes transported to T1 and racked whilst we were moved by coach and subjected to one of the most cheery and comical race briefings I've heard by Geraint (more about him later on).
With the coach navigating the narrow country hill road that I would be tackling by bike in less than an hour's time, it gave me a chance to visualise most of the course, checking signage on the way. The sun had pushed its way through, burning off the cloud and fog; standing at T1 in the seaside town of Tywyn at 9am I was boiling, trying to leave donning the wetsuit until the last minute.
With an additional pre-swim safety briefing and obligatory honours list photo, the flag was dropped and we were free to enter the sea in whatever fashion we felt worked; for me it was to swim from knee-deep water whilst others waded further. Ten minutes and a few loops later in the tropical waters of the Welsh coast and it was time to leave. I noted how everyone I saw were not interested in cutting corners to shore, you'd only be cheating yourself, and made sure they touched the buoy signifying the end of last loop before heading out.
Running to the car park where T1 was based, I had the top of my wetsuit off - something that has taken a lot of practise - before I reached my bike. It was at this point I marvelled that I managed to remove the wetsuit from my legs with speed and ease, which I owe to a top tip from a friend: plastering legs in hair conditioner is not only safe for the suit but very slippery! Helmet and race belt on and I was out on the bike. With numbers kept low for the event I was in a rare situation; there were no other riders to follow, I had to lead, not something I’m accustomed to.
600m swim time: 0:15:07
It didn’t take long as I left Tywyn to sense things weren’t quite right with the bike. The rear brake caliper was bound to the rim, this took some care with a reach to take the caliper lock off. Then there was the tinging… all I could think was I had a loose spoke but it was like this first thing? I had to put it to the back of my mind mind and plough on.
Now, I knew my gear setup was not ideal for climbing but I’ve been using it for over a year; with 25 teeth on the largest cog of the cassette, the climbs were tough, coupling that with my loss in fitness recently I couldn’t even keep up with friends to draft them. Yes you read that right, there are no draft-busters as this is not an ITU race, it’s a challenge and fun.
I thought the pain was nearly ending (or about to transfer to the run) when I entered Dolgellau, but there was one last cheeky climb that didn’t relent until T2.
Transition is set next to the Pony Trail in Snowdonia National Park. Not only was it well laid out but offered lots of fuelling options, from bananas and chocolate to Wild Trail energy bars and gels. One banana and one gel and some water later, I set out on the element that makes this event more than a race.
36km bike time: 1:42:34
I bounded across the road eager to jog up what I could; I rounded a corner, crossed a small footbridge, and made it up the first incline before stopping. This was not going to work; back pain from my 'super aero profile' on the bike was setting in. Revising my plans, I settled for a fast walk and regular rests to keep my heart rate low. The focus now was catching up with friends who were up to 10 minutes ahead and seeing my wife and kids who were camped out halfway.
As I pushed on, I couldn't stop taking in the views at every stop; it wasn't long before I spotted my family, but the first half of Cadair Idris is the steepest and hardest with large boulders to navigate. Every footstep takes mentally exhausting thought to select and physically demanding response by the body to place.
As I rounded the corner, my kids shouted their support. This was a big boost and a chance to rest I thought... Alex and Cari had other ideas, "Keep going Dad, get a fast time". A few jelly babies and water later I was sent packing. From then on, at every stop up the steep zig zag path, my wife and kids would be shouting support; they were not the only ones; bemused hikers going up and down gave words of encouragement along the route. For such a remote location, it was one of the best run legs of a triathlon I've had for on-route support!
With the heat of the sun and the leg-punishing ascent to the halfway point, I was glad of the marshal support. With water supplies and more snacks available, I took a little of both before finding the energy to jog once more. Having passed my family it was time to reel in my friends before the summit. They were in sight and so I grafted with jogging, fast walking and minimal stops to close the now 5-minute divide.
This section of Cadair in many way is easier due to the path being made of smaller stones rather than boulders. Finally catching up with friends, I had no interest in continuing the pace I was setting. We settled to a shared rate of climbing, looking to summit together, mirroring the start we shared together 3 hours earlier. As we made the final climb up a narrow path that was taking a constant flow of descending hikers who moved aside, there were shouts of “who’s going to get there first?”
5km run time: 1:19:34
There was no question, on a count of 3 we placed our hands on the summit trig point at the same time. Pride, achievement, and dizziness sank in as pain floated away. There were no more competitors in sight, making it feel as though the achievement was most definitely our own. With a rest at the summit hut, coats on and photos, we took in the view of the sea and cliff drops meters away. The thought of getting up here under your own steam cannot be taken away.
Diolch guys! Making the way down steadily to avoid last minute slips, I met my family and made for T2 to collect the bike before heading to the registration location from this morning for a well-earned pint.
Geraint was there, holding the fort. It was then I learned of the special link Caderman has with Bloodwise. Caderman is his creation and he did it alone years after recovery from leukaemia during his teens. This became an annual event and opened to others in 2017. Sometimes we need challenges to prove to ourselves we can go beyond limits. Geraint did this, and this year so did I along with 31 other competitors. This event is special and should most definitely be on the cards for 2019.