Racing the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon relay
Joining the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon (1900m swim, 88km ride, 21km run) in the latter stages of the race felt odd.
First, there had been the sudden start on Sunday morning.
Not knowing how long my Glasgow Triathlon Club friends would take before me – Vicky swimming and Caroline cycling – I had waited nervously at T2 for more than an hour. Every time I nipped to the loo I worried that Caroline would appear and I would be inside a portaloo peeing, rather than ready to run. (I always need to go a dozen times before a race.)
I bumped into other GTC’ers, some who had raced the day before in the sprint triathlon and others who had retired from the middle distance triathlon due to injury. But, I could hardly focus on the conversation because I was keeping an eye out for Caroline.
Then, when she did arrive, rather sooner than expected, I had thankfully just returned to the right place in the event field for the handover (a “holding pen” for relay participants). Yet, I still felt unprepared to dash off to run.
There is no count down or group start when you are doing a relay. Simply, we exchanged a few words and Caroline passed me the timing chip fitted into an ankle strap.
Me: “Well done. How do I put on this chip?”
Caroline: ”My legs are so sore. That was a tough ride.”
There was no time for a hug or further words of congratulations/good luck.
And I was off.
I willed my legs to get going and to take me through the next 21km, so I could do my best for our team.
Three laps: Highs and lows
Of course, my legs were a lot fresher than those of the full triathlon competitors. They had already swum and cycled for many hours, so I felt like a bit of a fraud and also rather mean as I overtook them.
A few other runners did come speeding past me in the first lap of the course through the grounds of Taymouth Castle and I had no idea of knowing if they were full triathlon or relay runners, or even what lap they were on.
Because I was fresh into the race I had the energy and lung space to cheer on fellow club members. The format of the laps also meant that it was possible to see other runners coming towards me. I looked out for our club colours and gave each runner a loud and supportive cheer. (Well, I hope they saw it as that!)
My run went like this
I find I talk to myself continually inside my head when I race. It goes something like this:
It’s the first lap, don’t go mad.
Let your legs stretch out but not too much.
This lap will be hard, but the second lap will be tougher.
My calves feel tight. I hope they loosen off.
Oh, look, there’s Niall. He is looking really strong. “Go Niall, Go Glasgow.”
The castle is huge but what is that strange white-painted extension?
There’s a water station. No I don’t need water.
Here’s the hill. The one everyone had told me about.
Ah. Yes. It’s definitely a hill. Keep pushing on. Small steps, look ahead, keep it going.
You are doing fine. No one is passing you.
Now for the downhill. Nice. Stretch out my legs but, hmmm, they feel a bit slow.
5k marker. Only 5km?!
Oh, another bit of uphill.
And muddy puddles. Oh well, makes a change.
There’s another GTC athlete. “Go Glasgow.”
Water? No, I’ll wait for a cup of Active Root later on.
I tried to run the first lap in my comfort zone. I knew the second would be the toughest. It wasn’t a flat course and while there was a long drag of a hill in the middle of each lap, the rest of the route was either gently up or down.
The worst section was towards the end of each lap when the course again ascended making the push for the turn-point seem so much harder. Brilliantly, this was the area where there were most supporters and those cheers from strangers and GTC friends really did help.
For a few minutes, there was no pain as I grinned madly and I heard their shouts of encouragement. Then it was back on to the course.
Knowing the route was partly helpful yet also tough. I was only too aware of what was to come, twice more, but I also knew where I needed to dig deep and where I could relax a little.
By now, many of the full triathlon competitors were slowing down. Some had stopped to walk various sections. Others had been hit by painful leg cramps.
I found I was passing more and more runners and I felt more guilt. As I raced by I told them: “Just ignore me. I am only doing the run.”
The other thing about being in a relay is that you have no idea where you are placed. There is no one to pick out ahead and race with. I couldn’t tell if our team was ahead, middle of the field or miles behind.
I did enjoy a short race with another woman runner on lap 2. She overtook me going into the lap and I ran behind her for a while. I wondered if she was doing the relay and what lap she was running.
At the long hill I steadily pulled away from her and whatever energy she had felt earlier seemed to have completely left her. I didn’t want her to catch me again, however, and that made me push myself a little faster.
Little sleep and tight calves
From the start of the run I’d felt my calves tighten and I worried I would pull a muscle if I pushed myself too hard. I have been doing a lot of run training recently and without any kind of taper towards this event I was aware I might be asking my body to do too much.
I also rarely run on tarmac so the hard surface only added to the tightness in my leg muscles.
I had not enjoyed a good night’s rest either. I won’t bore you with the details but suffice to say the menopause does not aid a restful night that often.
But I wanted to do my best for the team and so I drank two large coffees and told my brain and legs to shut up. I thought about running swiftly and consistently and at times I think it worked.
Lap two seemed to pass quite quickly and by the final lap I could tell my legs were tired but I told myself it was only 6k, 5k, 4k etc to go. I continued to cheer on my GTC club members. I was hugely impressed by their ability to race an ironman distance triathlon (this is something I have never done).
As I headed towards that last frustrating incline I could hear the crowds at the finish line in the distance. I knew it was only about four minutes to the end and I pushed as hard as I could.
Reaching the final section of soggy grass I made myself go faster. I wasn’t sure if the finish line was 30m, 40m or 100m away but I was sure I had a bit of a sprint in me. Again I felt guilty as I zoomed past other competitors as they headed on for lap 2 or 3, or as they made their way slowly and painfully to the finish line.
Doing “just” the run had been enough for me and I could only imagine how hard it was for the full triathlon competitors. I heard my friends shouting me onwards and I crossed the line with a big smile.
Although I had wondered why I’d been talked into racing by Caroline just a week or so before the event, as I finished I felt brilliant.
Our great team effort
After a team hug, I asked how Vicky and Caroline how they had fared. Vicky had been up early to complete the 1900m swim in Loch Tay.
She said: “The swim was fine. It felt cold, as it always does, getting into a loch but you don’t have much time to think about it. You don’t have much time for a warm up either.
“The organisers were keen to get us going and the three waves of different categories, seniors, veterans and then relay swimmers with the super vets and other age groups got going very quickly.
“It’s difficult to know how I did but I think the swim went ok. It would have been somewhere around the 35 minute mark. The water wasn’t too choppy and I enjoyed it.” Vicky swam a superb 33 mins 13 seconds.
Vicky then handed the racing chip to Caroline who headed out on the bike course. It had been very wet earlier in the day, although thankfully not windy.
Caroline had been feeling very anxious about the bike ride and had asked how she should “race” 90km. We had told her to enjoy it as much as she could.
She told me: ”It was a hard course, especially going over Schiehallion twice and I was a bit frustrated that I couldn’t ride faster uphill but I pushed myself as hard as I could. My legs were very sore by the end.” Caroline did a brilliant time of 3 hours 16 mins and she should be very proud.
Only six years ago, Caroline had to pull out of the same race due to a knackered disc in her lower back. It has required a lot of patience, determination, time, remedial work, rest and hard work to regain fitness and for Caroline to consider this race again. Although she was racing as a relay this time, rather than considering the full triathlon, she said it felt very poignant.
Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon: The details
For the past two years, the Aberfeldy Middle Distance Triathlon has taken place at its new base of Kenmore, near the Perthshire town of Aberfeldy. (The base used to be in Aberfeldy itself.)
It is organised by Durty Events.
The race comprises a 1900m swim of Loch Tay; a 88km ride, including an out-and-back ascent of Schiehallion; and a 21km (half-marathon) run forming three laps of the Taymouth Castle grounds.
The race also qualified as a Scottish Championships event. Almost 400 people competed in the Middle Distance event, as well as around 50 teams.
The previous day had seen a Sprint Triathlon taking place, too.
As it turned out our team had done very well. We took second place in the female relay category. We were all surprised – and delighted. Also. I want to send huge congratulations to all the GTC members who did the full middle distance triathlon. You were incredible.
A special mention must go to our president Sean, who had to finish the final 18 miles of the bike course with only one pedal (the other pedal fell off!).
The top results:
1st male: Fraser Cartmell in 4:19:35
1st female: Debbie Greig 4:44:29
1st male team: Perth Tri Club 4:30:37
1st female team: 5:32:49 (we were 7 mins slower)
1st mixed team: Grangemouth Tri Club: 4:56:53.
Find out more about this triathlon and other Durty Events.