Let’s call Aberfeldy a “learning experience”! Ok so I was always thinking I would rather stay nearer the race just for a longer lie, but as the weeks passed (and hotel prices rocketed to over £150 per night within a 100 mile radius!), I kinda warmed to the idea of being at home for the first weekend in what felt like months, and just doing a ridiculously early Disney-style race morning of getting up around 3am and hitting the road from Alford to Aberfeldy shortly after that.
As the days drew nearer, Kyle told me he should really come with me, and we should go down the night before, but I insisted I would be fine. Well the Thursday before the race, I was on the race website and was it not essential to be at race registration the previous day to pick up your number!? In a mad panic, I begged Robbie to stay at his. He wouldn’t be in but he hid a key for us (love them!), but then I realised it would still be a good 90 mins to get to the start line from there, so I gave in and decided to book a campsite.
We camped before Holkham and, although I didn’t have the best race, I didn’t mind camping so close to the start line. Luckily Kyle agreed to come now (probably after hearing Tom would be there so he’d have friend!) and it meant he could take down our tent (it claims it is a 2 second tent, but it took us probably 2 hours to take it down the first time we used it!).
Anyway, panic averted, we drove down Saturday afternoon after I visited multiple Scottish cycling record holder and all round superstar Jon Entwistle’s house for coffee, cake, catch ups and bike advice. The drive was stunning (over Glenshee), I registered with no issues, and I drove the 12 miles to the campsite, while Kyle ran there as part of his run session – which turned out to be 12 miles uphill into a massive headwind…sorry!! I got my bike sorted and tent set up in that time, and did a wee run to shake out the travel. We met again during the run and both saw a takeaway pizza sign at a nearby hotel so agreed to do dinner there. We got there just as the kitchen closed (not the best prerace prep given it was 9pm and I was only just about to eat dinner, only to get up at 4am for breakfast…) BUT thankfully the owner got us a couple pizzas and we ate them right on the loch with a beer. Loch Tay really is stunning!
…Until it POURED!! All friggin night!!!! We got ZERO sleep, and that isn’t an exaggeration. It started off pretty funny and just how bad it was, but by 2am we were getting pretty angry! Alas, alarm went off (not that it was needed) and off we went to the two transitions (which is complicated with no sleep!) to set up. A shout from Arash cheered me up, but all I could think of at that point was coffee. I was too tired to even be the little bit nervous, which was annoying me. And no coffee was available (Durty Events if you are reading this, I would have paid big bucks for caffeine before the race start!).
I tried to make these into positives. I got over 10 hours sleep on Friday night due to a lazy evening and no alarm set for training on Saturday, so that’s what matters; not the previous night. And the loch will wake me up; caffeine isn’t the be all end all (turns out it is).
No time for a warm up, and a quick catch up with superstars Kirsty, Paul and Doug, we got in the water. It was FREEZING! The last open water swim I’d done was in 23C London which was a Jacuzzi compared to this! Right, try and be nervous, Debs…maybe you could manage to pee? Sorry for the TMI, but just as I decided now was the best time to try and pee, the gun went off!!!!!!!!! Zero time to think (or pee), I was swam over by several bodies and was pretty far back!
I sprinted around a couple of groups that had formed, then found myself in no man’s land.
Again, I turned this into a positive and was always going to be doing the race as a training day, so actually embraced swimming with nobody towing me. It was also a challenge trying to spot, as there were only 3 buoys, nearly 700m apart, and with the mist on the loch it was tough to see!
I exited in 28.40 which is pretty slow but understandably slow, and a few people clocked it as long (probably because you’re never going to swim in the shortest line to the next buoy with them being so far apart!).
I suffer from Reynaud’s pretty bad, and I struggled getting my wetsuit off, so I decided to amateurly put my cleats on before mounting the bike, as it could be dangerous doing it while riding. I saw Kirsty come in and cheered her on but quickly changed that to complaining that I couldn’t get my (ski) gloves on! Finally off I went and within a minute I see Paul on the side of the road having gone through a huge puddle and over a pothole. The roads were treacherous!
This scared me quite a bit (it’s no surprise I have issues regarding coming off my bike!), so I think subconsciously I rode slower and definitely more cautiously. I also significantly lowered my tire pressure which I think hindered my performance. I didn’t check it race morning (epic fail) but after the race it was well under 80. Oops!
Another fail was knowing there was an extra prize for fastest time up the Schiehallion KOM, but not knowing it wasn’t actually on the way from transition, but instead the steep part about 45 miles in. Oops again! I nailed it up, but I did wonder why I didn’t see a time system anywhere….idiot! When I got on the flattish part around Loch Rannoch, I was trying to stay hydrated but I was too cold, the rain was the same if not stronger, people kept passing me and I couldn’t even take in the views I was too cold! At about the half way point, Kirsty passed me and shouted some encouragement (she smashed the bike!) and I just said I was a bit cold! I couldn’t have stayed with her if I tried.
(lonely, cold and wet!)
As I approached the end of the loch, I had words with myself to give it my all on the REAL Schiehallion KOM and then at least I might win one prize that day. It was a tough climb, where you think you’ve reached the top but then you turn and there’s more. I just kept pushing as I was riding angry.
Then it was pretty much all downhill for 5 miles to T2. After overtaking a couple of people on that climb, they overtook me again on the descent, due to my fear of coming off (which I know quite a few people did…). At the dismount line (bike split was 2.41 I think), I saw Tom who just happened to be on his long run, but he wasn’t with Kyle (Kyle was exhausted from a sleepless night and went back to the site for a nap). Again, not having feeling in my hands or feet, I couldn’t put on my running shoes (I had planned on socks but that would be another 10mins struggling…another fail proven by all the blisters I got!). The announcer on the speaker made me laugh by saying my pre-run ritual was this spiritual jig ie me hopping around trying to get my trainers on and failing miserably. That joke actually put me in good spirits and I went on to the run course in a better mood.
My aim was to catch Kirsty, but I had no idea how I would hold up, given my lack of fuelling, but within a kilometre I could feel my feet again and began to warm up. I actually felt pretty good! The route was 3 laps with a mixture of trails, road and a medium hill in each lap. It was good for cheering and to see where your competitors are! And there were loads of marshals who were so supportive, and aid stations which I needed as the sun finally decided to come out!
About 4 miles in, I caught Kirsty right back at transition and we swapped some encouraging words (I LOVE this between competitors…I have mentioned before that we do this for fun, so I don’t understand the anger in people sometimes). At this point, I just kept reminding myself to stay fuelled and maintain a sustainable effort. I tried to keep picking people off who were a lap behind, and hearing so many people cheering fellow competitors on made me so positive and I think it made me run faster!
I even had a sprint finish in me, so I was happy with how strong I felt on the run (1.29.05 I think it was), despite the swim and bike being some of my worst performances.
A quick change, and I was back out on the course with Kyle for some more running miles (told you it was a training day!). I did 7 miles to make it 20 for the day, cheering athletes and encouraging Kyle to keep up (he does not do well with sleep deprivation…9 minute miles were a struggle for both of us!).
Unfortunately, even after all this, we still had to wait another 2 hours before they started prize giving, and the weather was back to pouring rain. Next time, I think we’d head for lunch and come back as I think it made us both a little ill waiting around in the cold.
At prize giving, I found out I won the hill climb – I think I was 6.40 and Doug won the men’s crown just over 30 seconds quicker, so I was thrilled with that!
Fraser Cartmell won the overall men’s race and we had a beer shower after prize giving…I was so glad I didn’t have a shower!
It was lovely to catch up with people (some we haven’t seen in ages!), and then off we went to Aberfeldy (the race was actually 6 miles from there in Kenmore!) for some of the best coffee I’ve had in months, a quick catch up with Tom and Fiona, and a stop in Ballater for fish and chips (that was an anti-climax…they were rubbish!).
The following day I had a run session to learn to cope with running fast on tired legs, but I felt like a zombie! 2x2miles barely getting under 6.30, but it was the effort that counted!
The following weekend was a BIG SURPRISE at the National 100 mile cycling championships, so update on that soon!
Interview and Triathlon Scotland recap here
Beer shower video here