Beautiful Blenheim hosts Triathlon

Yesterday’s sunshine was a welcome relief after a very wet week and showed off  glorious Blenheim stately home at its best.  But I didn’t go to potter around the gardens or meander round the State rooms. I went  to swim in the lake, cycle three times round the estate and run twice round the lake.  It was ‘Fab’. Masses of  cheering spectators, great support from course marshals, brilliant mix of fun athletes and utterly nutty kneenies and ‘location, location, location’. Blenheim is just beautiful.

This post is really just for aspiring Triathletes (and for my Mum to see what I was up to!) – some photos will tell the story.  As you can see I am neither super-fit, nor super-slim, and not super anything but it was really brilliant fun and if I can do it , you could too!  Join me next year?

Wave 18 – the ladies in pink caps- have their pre-race briefing. The instructions for the run element were ‘It’s not that far, just get on with it!’
David manages to spot me in the crowd
And we are in the water – really not that cold, honest!
Pink caps reach half way buoy
T1 – what a venue!
Coming out of T1 – I’m right to look worried, I’ve forgotten my race belt and number, going back cost me 30 seconds
Bike route begins downhill
Back in for T2 58 minutes later
Coming towards the finish line (Yes, most people had finished and gone home!!)
Got the Blenheim Bling, my wrist-strap and medal! 2 hours 7 mins to do 750m open water swim, 12 mile bike ride, 3 mile run 🙂

For fantastic 12 minutes highlight video go to . It really captures the beauty of the setting and the spirit of the event. I can’t believe I’ve run the same route as a the Brownlee brothers!! They did the whole thing in 57 minutes:  insanely fast. (And I am on the video, I’m one of the ‘pink caps’, blink and you miss me but I AM there!)

Open Water Swimming – First Time

Setting the alarm last night for 5.45am, the opening line for this blog post came to me,

I have joined the lunatic fringe’!

And yes, the notion of flinging myself into a freezing lake before 8am on a saturday morning did feel slightly insane. But it wasn’t, it SO wasn’t.

The Lake at Market Bosworth

First of all when we arrived there were loads of other people wandering around in wet suits getting ready to swim so it felt like an entirely normal thing to do.

And wow, oh wow, once I was out there, it felt like an entirely natural thing to do! Awesome, amazing, peaceful, beautiful! Just quietly gliding through a circle of sun filled water under a dome of a blue spring sky, what a privilege! Am I blessed or what??

Yes, the water was cold (13 degrees to be precise) but the wet suit did its job brilliantly. (Birthday present from my hubbie, thank you beloved, so yes I was swimming in ‘my birthday suit’). Only my hands, feet and face were cold and even then not too bad once we got moving. Putting my head under for the first time was the worst moment and my style was pretty ropey for the first 10 minutes as the cold just takes your breath away. In fact,  I didn’t manage my usual ‘face in the water for 3 strokes’ style for the whole time but that was more to do with the cold on my face, rather than fear of the water (which I’d expected).

I didn’t see any fish. The water tasted fine (you can’t help swallowing some!) I wasn’t ‘allowed’ my swimming socks by Keith our instructor (‘they fill up with water and drag your feet down’ – so they’ll be going back to the shop). I had been worried about squidgy stuff and weeds under my toes and yes, there was both mud and weeds but it really didn’t feel that bad.

So here’s the suit:

Believe it or not I do squeeze into this. Squeeze being the operative word in that sentence. Think ‘vacuum packed chicken’ only slightly less attractive and you’ve got the idea. (This is why there are no photos of me actually in the suit).

But, okay in case you don’t believe me, here I am, in the water:

The suit does make you amazingly buoyant so it feels much easier than swimming in a pool. I expected a cold rush as the water slid down inside but in fact it seeped in so gradually the parts of me covered by the suit never really felt cold.

Getting it on and off isn’t quite so slick: an extra 10 minutes at least added onto transition time!

Thank you Keith for taking out a ‘novice’ and being so encouraging. Thank you Heather for coming along for company, I really appreciated your support.

My biggest fear was that I would freak out and hate the whole thing (would not have been great, given that I’m booked in for 3 open water events this summer) but it was brilliant, just brilliant. I can’t wait to get back in the water.

(Needed plenty of this stuff afterwards: my favourite body lotion – LOL):  You can only do swimming training at the times organised by the club

Triathlon Joy!

Whoopee! We did it. The team of 5 triathlon ‘newbies’ triumphed on Sunday last  in Lichfield.  I think this picture captures some of our joy and relief.

We had to leave home by about 6.15 to be there in time to register and get our transition areas all set up. Then we began in the pool.

Here’s me with 10 seconds to go, unlike the bloke next to me, I am about to forget to set my watch! In the first length this will bother me as will the ankle strap with timing chip (”did I do it up tight enough?  will it come off?’) By lap 5 I will think I am drowning having lost my breathing rhythm totally due to going off too fast and by lap 12 of 16 I will be screaming ‘get me out of here’ in my head! In the end, even though it felt awful, I did about the same time I’d done in training.

Then we were off on our bikes – the  deluge of torrential rain that had been forecast  did not happen so we just had gusty winds to contend with especially on the return leg. Really wanted to do it in under 1 hr and managed 59 minutes!

Then off on the run. It was 4 laps round a field. Someone had given me ‘Pinocchio legs’ for the first two and I was really slow, then tried to pick up the pace and ended up with a run time just one minute over my previous PB.

Finished in 1 hour 46 minutes 22 seconds. Is this good??  No, not really but it’s not bad for a ‘nearly 50 first timer’! And my goal was to do it in under 2 hours so I was well happy.

JOY ‘I’ve finished!’:

Huge credit and thanks go to Keith and Helen who gave freely of their time and expertise to help train us. Also to Heather who inspired us all in the first place and continued to be an inspiration all the way through. Also to my beloved for getting out of bed ridiculously early on a Sunday morning, standing around and cheering, fetching and carrying and taking all the photos.

Also to everyone who sponsored me, when it all comes in we hope to have raised about £700 for The Ups of Downs a small local charity that provides speech and language therapy (amongst other things) for children with Down’s Syndrome.  Fabulous – real win/win all around, thank you so much  if you joined in that way. 

And if you’d like to join in and do one yourself… yes, I’m sure we’ll be doing it all again because it was just such fun.

Learning to Breathe

I’ve been working on my breathing…

You’d think that after a near half century of breathing, I’d have mastered it by now.

Breathe in, breathe out. Inhale… exhale.

The tricky bit is synchronising this action with the necessary front crawl actions of  ‘face in the water – exhale’, then ‘face out the water- inhale’. It’s much harder than it sounds and inhaling at the wrong moment leaves me doing a convincing drowning impression, mid length. Oh well, keeps the life-guard on his toes. (‘Is she drowning? Nah, just trying to master front crawl’)

This photo isn’t me by the way, this is a photo of someone doing front crawl with skill!

Yes, I haven’t mentioned much about the triathlon attempt lately but it’s still on. Now that we are into January it’s so much easier to watch the weeks hurtle past bringing me ever closer to the dreaded day. 

I really need to be gripped by sense of urgency. It’s not that I haven’t been preparing: thanks to generous people at Christmas, I’ve got all the gadgets in place. A new swimming proof watch that counts your lengths for you. I have ‘100 Running Songs’ loaded on my ipod. I have the Nike gadget in my trainer that causes the lady on my ipod to tell me how far I’ve run and how long I’ve been running for (but sadly she never says the words ‘300 yards to the rest of that box of chocolates’!’ Why didn’t Nike think of that? Even the Sat Nav says ‘Congratulations you have reached your destination’ Couldn’t the Nike lady come up with something more motivating?).

Yep, all the gizmos are in place, now I’ve just got to get out there and do it.

‘There is a time for everything’ Ecclesiastes tells us.  A time to tear and a time to mend, a time to speak and a time to be silent, a time to weep and a time to laugh.  I could do with adding a few categories of my own: a time to run, a time to cycle, a time to swim…. a time to sit in an exhausted heap and wonder why on earth I thought this was a good idea!

As quoted elsewhere in this blog:

Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Breathe in.
Breathe out.
Forget this and attaining Enlightenment will be the least of your problems.

Coming Clean…

I’d like to make a confession. 

For the last month or so I’ve been meaning to blog about something new in my life but saying this thing out loud (even in blog) feels a bit like being in one of those meetings that begin:  ‘Hello. My name is Sheila and I am an…… 

But this confession is not about an addiction.  On the contrary it is something good and positive, something I’ve been quietly excited about for the last 6 weeks. Something that has raised my levels of hopefulness and become part of my way forward out of the slough of despond brought on by my empty nest this summer.  It’s linked me to old and new friends with a new sense of focus.

So what is it?  (And why am I being so coy about it??)

Okay, here goes….

Are you ready for this?

could you try not to laugh?

It won’t be anything you’re expecting….


Well, that pretty much explains why I’m being coy! The idea of a dumpy middle-aged woman donning lycra and calling herself a triathlete is ridiculous and I will allow you to laugh but only with me, not at me because I too am laughing over the sheer lunacy of this plan.

Here’s what I have to do (next May): swim 400m, cycle 20 kilometres, run 5 kilometres, all as fast as possible, going straight from the pool to the bike to the running track with no changes of clothing allowed. The idea is to finish in less than 2 hours and as near as possible to 1 hour. This distance is called a ‘sprint’ distance. (cue hysterical laughter)

Here’s how things stand at the moment: overweight and with a dodgy left ankle I can ‘run’ for 5 minutes at a slow jog. The swimming and the cycling bits are a better but I’m not built for speed and although I’m trying to learn front crawl, I can’t do more than one length before I begin inhaling water. 

For all these reasons it sounds ridiculously pompous and self inflated to declare myself a  triathlete. But that is what our coach told us we had to do: buy a diary (oh, goody, another diary) and write ‘Triathlete’s Training Diary’ on the cover. Thinking yourself into the role is a key part of the process…apparently.

I know this to be true because this isn’t the first ‘I am’ phrase that I’ve had trouble with. Years ago when I first began to write someone encouraged me to say ‘I am a writer’ instead of mumbling ‘I do a bit of writing’. Now 17 years, 6 books and a lot of columns later, I still become hopelessly self-conscious saying it and very rarely do.

This is not the only ‘ I am ‘ phrase that gives me grief. I can’t yet say ‘ I am a trainee vicar’ without first taking a deep breath and checking for bolt-holes.It tends to be a bit of a conversation stopper that one!  Not unlike the phrase ‘I am a Christian’.  But why should I be coy? These are all good and positive things in my life, they express something very close to the core of who I am so why am I so self-conscious?  I suppose fear is the biggest factor: the fear that I’ll be misunderstood (‘who does she think she is?’) fear of being pigeon-holed or sounding pompous and big-headed.  And below the fear, in all these cases is self-doubt: ‘I’m not sure I’m up to this task, there are so many things I don’t understand about God,  some days I don’t feel full of faith at all’ and so on and so on.

But the way to overcome fear and self-doubt is not to blindly pretend they aren’t there, but to’ feel the fear and do it anyway’. Yes, I’m unfit, overweight, with dodgy joints, wobbly thighs and flabby arms but I AM a triathlete.  Yes, I may have doubts and feel inadequate as a Christian but I AM loved and known to my Creator.

In Romans 10 Paul tells what it takes to become a Christian. Wisely he talks about two things being necessary ‘believe in your heart’ (private commitment) and ‘confess with your mouth’ (public statement). In other words, as you say something out loud, an internal hope changes into an external reality. It’s about believing what you are becoming even if you feel yourself not quite there yet.

In another New Testament book Paul talks about running a race and winning a prize, he’s not confessing to being a triathlete but his words sum up that process: ‘Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me…. I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards…’  (Philippians 3:12-14)