Ibiza. A glorious sun-kissed island, usually. But we timed this one a bit wrong. Heavy storms on the morning of the race caused a flooded bike course, burst sewers which started trickling into the sea, and a delayed start until 3pm. Lovely!
As we were running out of daylight for a half iron distance race (given that the fastest athletes take 4 hours and the slowest, 8.5) the format had to be changed due to darkness closing in on the bike leg, and was finally confirmed as a 45km bike instead of the usual 90. Usually good news for me, but in this case, I could have done with an extra buffer to Sarah, as you will see!
After a long old wait, made easy by joining my fellow GB elites in our manager’s hotel room for some laughs (what can you do but laugh?) the storms subsided and the race was finally on. Hurrah.
It was a tight affair. I was always within striking distance of the medals but the swim and bike saw me in around 5th place with a couple of minutes to make up on the run; which is the norm for me.
I was excited to see what I could do run-wise, but I wasn’t feeling ridiculously amazing (this phenomenon can happen maybe once or twice a year only). Solid enough, but no ‘magic’ today. Time of the month can have a huge influence on how good I feel, and the last day of Phase 4, whilst being nowhere near as bad as the first day of Phase 1 (close call!) is far from ideal timing (females would be looking to race in Phase 2 or on day 12-14 for peak performance). It’s great to have knowledge of all this stuff now as female athletes can suffer hugely with hormone fluctuations that are very performance-impacting. Some obviously have more issues than others.
And aside from science being able to explain things, there’s also the unknown of the human body - you can have a great day when you don’t expect it and a bad day when you do - so no matter what should happen, it’s important to race with an open mind: anything can happen and that’s what makes it interesting!
Back to the run. It was the least flat course I’ve ever seen described as flat! Described by many as an obstacle course, we had arbitrary bollards, twisty, slippy, cobbly, narrow roads, and a serious kicker of a climb every lap, with a treacherous, wet, cobbled descent then some steps to follow. It was challenging for each and every one. I was happy with my half marathon of 1.22 as I’m what I describe as a ‘rhythm-based’ runner: stick me in a straight line, wind me up (like a toy I mean, no shouting) and off I go.
Whilst not having the run of dreams, I was consistently fast enough for long enough to hold second place for 19km. Unfortunately for me, it’s 21.1km, and having been chased for the duration by one of the best runners in the sport, fellow Brit and good friend Sarah Lewis, she swept past at 1.19 pace (on that course, that’s seriously rapid) and I was suddenly struggling to hold it together for a medal. 4th and 5th were around 1-2 minutes back so there was a little time to spare, but I was starting to see stars and rock a bit; I’d really pushed the last few kilometres to make Sarah work for it and also be in a position to take advantage should the girl in the lead falter (no chance of that today; I’ve raced Alexandra for a few years and she’s taken a big step up now).
But having gambled a bit to go for gold/silver (because you have to, right?), I was paying the price. I was so close to the finish but as I’ve always said, it’s never over until that line is crossed. I’ve gone from second to fifth in the space of seconds in the closing stages before, so you absolutely cannot take anything for granted when you’re putting your body on the edge of its capability.
So, in hindsight, I think the best thing then happened. I stacked it on a turn with less than a mile to run. I got up straight away, my hip and elbow having taken quite the donk, but the adrenaline surge was exactly what I needed to hold myself together and squeeze out just another 3 minutes of effort to secure my third place.
It’s such a nice feeling to step on to a podium, especially at a championship with your country flag being raised, despite the FREEZINGNESS, and especially when a local gives you their pet parrot to join you on your shoulder! That really made my day; the parrot even tried to help me uncork my champagne with its beak. I’ve now added “buy a parrot” to my bucket list.
I’ll be looking to upgrade on my bronze in Romania next year, but if that’s the culmination of my past few years’ work, I’m cool with that.
My coach and support team believe there is some more ‘complete racing’ to come out (and so do I), so the decision has been made to stick at 70.3 for 2019, before moving on to a (possibly feeble) attempt at the British 100 mile run record from 2020 onwards, which is 14.43 and has been held since 1990 (exactly why it’s been held so long I’m sure I’ll be in for a treat finding out!) But I also just want to see how fast I can go, and wherever that places me on a list, who cares. From there, we’ll go full steam ahead for Badwater 135. But I’ll be a long time retired from pro triathlon, so whilst I can still improve, it’s time to embrace the bike for another year, get my head down in the pool and crack on with a solid winter’s work!
About the author: Alice Hector is a professional triathlete who has enjoyed some incredible wins over the course of her career. Sundried is proud to sponsor such an inspiring athlete.
Read more from Alice Hector
"Never again" I vowed as I delved through the depths of my sanity at mile 85 of the North Downs Way 100, having run through one of the hottest days of 2015. Never again.
A little over a year later, the alarm pierced through the peaceful autumn morning, rousing me from a restless night’s sleep. Though 3 or 4 options of running kit covered the floor, predictably, I grabbed my usual set up: 10-year-old leggings with holes in them and my Lavaredo ultra t-shirt. Given the nonsensical hour, it was too early to expect a cooked breakfast from the B&B, so I boiled the kettle, made myself some instant porridge and washed it down with an unappetising warm yogurt and cup of coffee. Full of food and apprehension, I wandered the few metres down the road to the start.
A quiet hum of excitement and nerves spread through Goring village hall. There were a few familiar faces - you won't be surprised to hear that the ultra world is relatively small so you get to know the field. I scoured the crowd for my friends who'd convinced me to sign up to this, my second 100-mile race, but at 5ft 3, it's not easy to spot anyone who's not directly in front of you.
Just before 10am, we gathered outside to listen to the pre-race babble. We clapped for the first timers and for those who were doing all four Centurion 100 mile races in the year. I wished they'd clapped for those who had turned up totally unprepared and under-trained for the event.
I usually choose races with a different start and finish point because it means that from the very first step you are edging closer to the finish. This race, I realised after signing up, started at a centre point and went 12.5 miles out and back in four directions. Great for supporters, who could set up camp in the centre. Also great if you sensibly decide to duck out halfway. Not so great if you're hoping to finish.
I ran the first couple of legs with friends. We stuck to Justin’s plan: 9 minutes of running, 1 minute of walking. It's a good way to save your legs and allow you to continue for longer (in theory). The first leg along the Thames path was nice and green - a bit flat for my liking, but a good, gentle start to a long day. Like an excited spaniel, Ilsuk, one of the group, ran ahead and then obediently waited for us to catch up.
It always surprises me how tired I am at the beginning of any race. I always think I’ll struggle to run 5 miles, let alone 100. I start with my usual plan: enjoy 50 miles and then call it a day. It’s never quite worked out that way.
9 hours and 50 minutes from the gun, having run 25 miles on the Thames path and nearly 25 on the Ridgeway, our group had dispersed. It was just Sean and me at the back, battling the ground, chewing the cud, slowly eating up the miles. As a new father, Sean had a good excuse for putting in fewer hours of training than usual. But he was doing okay. I was struggling. I remember thinking this might be the first time I do as planned and stop before the real pain begins.
With big blisters and tired legs, I took a much needed seat. Cocktail sausages, fruit and chocolate consumed, I tended to my feet. My wonderful parents were there - mother putting her nursing skills to good use, father refilling my water bottles. I told them I'd had enough. After bursting the blisters, I wasn't in pain, but I knew that if I kept going I soon would be. Unfortunately, there were lots of people around willing me to continue. I looked okay so they figured I just needed a mental push. I resisted the temptation and took off my race number.
My parents were delighted. They were careful not to show it, as they knew I had to own the decision or I'd look back and blame them. But I knew how much they wanted to take me home and tuck me up in bed. Part of me wanted to give in. But then what was I going to do? Sleep? I could do that tomorrow. Sean had stuck with me until I convinced him I wouldn't be heading back out. I now regretted that.
Once again, I threw my plan out the window and tied my laces.
Hating the thought that I'd be out there in the middle of the night on my own, mum hurried back to her hotel room and slipped on her trainers. If there's a better mum out there, I'd like to meet her. Race number reattached, I headed out into the dark, mum by my side. She stayed with me until I found a small group to join and was ready to run again. I promised I'd let her know when I was approaching the centre for the penultimate time and headed off, amazed - as I often am - by the sheer selflessness of the woman.
My new friends and I stuck together for 7 or 8 miles before we fell into our own paces and I turned to Spotify for company. It was a long, undulating slog through the night, which I spent lost in my own thoughts. Not miserable, but not exactly having a blast, I knew that I would push to the finish now and celebrate with a long bath. I just had to put my head down and get on with it. I went in and out of the final checkpoint quite quickly, 25 miles to go. That's not even a marathon. Easy...
Aches and pains forced me to alternate between running and walking. Emphasis on the walking. And when I say running, I mean moving my arms faster, gritting my teeth and imagining I was running. The best part of this leg was bumping into some other friends - Kieran and Richard, the former a fellow competitor, the latter a triathlete who didn't understand why we did this, but had offered his services as a pacer. We shared some pizza at a food station, compared pain levels and tried to convince Richard, and ourselves, that this was a great sport.
We ran together for a while but I lost them on the hills. The pain in my legs was becoming unbearable. I wasn't wearing a watch (I never do) so I didn't know quite how far away my bath was. A bit doolally, I realised I needed some assistance. Scrambling around in the bushes, I found a couple of sturdy sticks. And named them. Esmeralda, Matilda and I soldiered on.
Mum! I wasn't at the finish, but the sight of her walking towards me told me I couldn't be far from it. She confirmed that I was nearly there as she turned to walk, once again, by my side. She lied. I wasn't close. Just a little further she said. No mum. Don't tell me what I want to hear, tell me the truth. When you're in so much pain you can barely hold it together, you don't want any surprises - you want to know exactly how much longer it will last. Then, whatever the answer, you can deal with it. Nevertheless, I was grateful for her company in those last couple of miles.
Forty minutes later, I was being carried up the hotel stairs by my father. Exhausted, relieved, medal round my neck, yearning for that bath.
I'd like to say never again, but I know that would be a lie. I crave the whole thing. The denial as the day draws closer. The excitement at the start of the adventure. The satisfaction of an egg sandwich, a bowl of rice pudding or a salted potato. The still, quiet nothingness as the body and brain switch off and you finally rest your head on a fluffy pillow that never felt so good.
Maybe just one more race...
About the author: Becky Shuttleworth is an ultra runner and Sundried ambassador.
Sunday 8th October 2017 was a brilliant day for York, North Yorkshire. It was the day of the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon 2017 and I was running it. Having never ran a marathon before this was quite something for me.
5.45am the alarm went off, I rolled over and switched it off. Marathon day was here. I nudged the hubby who was running with me today and we both got up. Breakfast was your standard affair before a long run- a big bowl of oats with a few spoons of Nutella. I was feeling surprisingly calm and fine at this point. I expected the pre-race nerves to kick in but they didn’t seem to be. I started to feel confident that everything was going to be ok and I was quite excited to run my first ever marathon.
7am we set off. We live about 25 miles away from where the marathon started so we estimated it would take about 45 minutes to get to the car park where we could get a bus into York (buses were put on from Elvington airfield so that traffic wasn’t going straight into York as there were loads of road closures). As we got closer to the airfield, the traffic was pretty hectic so we had to queue for a while. At this point I started to feel the nerves a little, but I kept a positive mind and just kept imagining us finishing the race. That was our goal for this- having never ran 26.2 miles before we didn’t know what to expect so we just wanted to get round in one piece and finish it. We finally managed to park the car and grab the next bus to the university which is where the marathon started and finished. The atmosphere was buzzing when we arrived.
The bag drop and event area was pretty well organised, everything was well signposted. The only thing that was annoying was the toilets. I know with such a big event with thousands of people there that of course there’s going to be queues for the toilets but I think there should have been more. We queued for about 15-20 minutes just to go for a wee! After we finally managed to use the toilets it was time to head to the start line which was a 5 minute walk away. The warm-up for the race was non-existent so we had to just do a little jiggle and a quick jump about in the tiny space we had and that would have to do.
Before we knew it the countdown had begun and it was time to go. As we were so far back from the actual start line it took around 10 minutes to get to it but we were off. The first couple of miles were straight through York city centre and the support and atmosphere here was incredible, it really made me feel confident. I had noticed from the beginning that the 5-hour pacer was behind us and she was slowly getting further and further away from us. This made me feel confident and made me believe that we may finish this in a pretty good time for a first marathon (anything sub 5 hours was a good time for us). The first half of the marathon flew by and I was feeling great although I did have to stop at the toilet I had drank so much water and isotonic drink that there was no way I could have ran any further feeling so full.
I told my husband to carry on running and I would catch him up, which I did. Mile 15 was a bit of a struggle and I feared I’d hit the dreaded wall. But I focused and pulled myself back. At this point we saw the 5 hour pacer go by and disappear ahead- bye bye sub 5 hours for us! To be honest, at this point it didn’t really matter what time we finished in, we just wanted to finish.
Miles 16 to 20 were probably the most awful ones as when you reach mile 17 you can see mile 19 on the other side of the road- you know you have to run all the way down that road to come all the way back- not the best feeling in the world. At this point I was keeping an eye on my husband as he was starting to slow down. I kept a slow pace just ahead of him and kept encouraging him to keep going. This continued until mile 20 when my husband had to stop. I feared he hadn’t taken on enough energy to keep him going so I made him continuously sip water and isotonic and told him to have an energy gel sachet. He did and we started to run again. Unfortunately, this was now the point of no return for him and I had to continuously encourage him to keep going. This is when the aches and pains started to kick in for me as I was running so slowly to keep my husband going.
Miles 23-25 were the slowest due to walking quite a lot but I was determined to keep us going. I told my husband that when we got to the mile 25 marker we were going to run and not stop until we finished. Mile 25 arrived, I grabbed his hand and off we went. At 25.5 miles there is quite a steep hill to get back up to the university campus but there was no way I was letting that stop me from running. I completely zoned in on my husband and kept him going. We got to the top and then it was downhill from there- the last few hundred feet and the finish line were in sight. The crowds going up the hill and on the way to the finish line were awesome. There was so much encouragement from everyone!
It was done, we had done it! Off to get our goody bag and medal we went. Would I recommend the Yorkshire marathon? Yes I would. Looking back it actually was a very pleasant run (as pleasant as a marathon can be I guess). 90% of the course is pretty flat which makes for a great first marathon. I would certainly do it again and I would be aiming for a better time- we did it in 5 hours 30 minutes so I would definitely aim for sub 5 hours next time. To have an event like that so close to where I live is fantastic and I will be back!
About the author: Amie Forster is a personal trainer and fitness blogger.
Sunday 29th July 2018 was the day of the annual Prudential Ride London - Surrey 100 mile sportive. I had entered it months ago and was adamant I would still take part even though I was due to go into hospital the following day for a procedure.
An early start time of 7am meant I had to be in Stratford at the start by 6:15am. Leading up to this day, the weather was scorching hot with temperatures exceeding 30 degrees Celsius, however race morning saw the most rainfall the country had had in months!
Minutes before my wave started, the heavens opened. I was cold and miserable before I even started! Thankfully, once we started the camaraderie amongst the riders and the shouts from the very committed supporters really got me in a positive mood. I actually started to really enjoy myself and was pushing an easy, steady rhythm at 19/20mph. I made a decision early on that I would try not to stop due to the weather. I knew fuel-wise I was okay, but water-wise I may not be, I would just have to see how things went.
Leading up towards the hills of Surrey, I started cycling with a lad from Leeds who was holding a similar pace to me. This really helped as we could work together to hold onto the back of packs of other riders. Before I knew it, we had cruised through the 50-mile mark at an average speed of 19.5mph.
Then we started hitting the hills! Leith Hill was first and by far the hardest. There were a few nasty accidents and as we heard in the press later, a fatality at Leith Hill. It was easy to see how and why accidents happen: the roads were wet, gritty, slippy due to the lack of rain and there were 100s of cyclists - some more experienced and patient than others - all trying to get from point A to B in the quickest time. They say it’s not a race, but every cyclist out there had their own target, so it becomes a race against the clock or your own goals in some respect.
Descending down from Leith Hill I lost my ride partner as I was more comfortable descending at speed than he was, so I held on to a few new riders as we approached Box Hill, the last of the big climbs in the Surrey countryside.
Although my legs were hurting, I was loving it! My love for cycling has really come out over the winter when I started cycling with the lads from Essex Roads CC. They really push me over 3-4 hour rides and I literally get home and fall into a heap exhausted but the fitness improvements have been huge from this weekly ride!
Coming back into London, the rain was still falling and the roads were starting to get busier as we approached the meeting point on the course for the merging of the 19, 46, and 100-mile courses. There were lots of stop/starting at this point and lots of nasty accidents where people had cycled into bollards or curb-sides etc. The rhythm started to get interrupted a bit at this point and the legs were starting to feel heavy! The last few miles went past in a daze and before I knew it, I could see the finishing arch on the Mall. I pushed on and found I finished in a time of 5 hours 34 minutes, which smashed my own target of 6 hours! I was so chuffed but now I suddenly realised I had to cycle back to the car in Stratford...those 7 miles really hurt!
About the author: Louise Douglass 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.