Swimming at Nationals

After about a month of training not as hard or as often as I should have (for various reasons – work, health, social commitments), the weekend of the Swim England National Masters Swimming Championships finally came around.

This event, would be the biggest of my swimming career so far and after a good performance at County Championships and Midlands Championships earlier in the year, it was something I had been looking forward to. Although I hadn’t expected it to come around so quick.

At local events, I usually come home with several medals, and a few pbs, and although they are great, the idea of getting a medal at Nationals, or a PB in the big competition was very exciting…however after looking at the entry times, and my lack of training before the event, both of these seemed unlikely.

I entered eight races over two days and ended up swimming in seven of them, as I entered the 400IM by mistake and knew I had not trained enough to be able to swim that race in the morning before other races later in the day. So I chose to withdraw from the 400IM, and when I arrived at the pool and saw the other swimmers in that race, I did feel a little sad not to be amongst them.

The National Championships are a big annual event, and I was very excited to have made the qualifying times for the competition, despite the several years I spent away from the pool it was a great confidence to know I could make it there to compete amongst the best in the country.

Sprint Finish
Sprint Finish

I wasn’t in the top ten for any of the individual events I entered, but that gives me a baseline and something to work on for next year. For me, this year has been about coming back, getting my strokes back on form, improving my stamina and feel for the water. I have entered lots of different races: 50m and 100m of each stroke, 100m IM, 200m IM, 400m IM, 200m freestyle, 400m freestyle and an 800m freestyle.

I have established which races I enjoy the most (100m IM, 200m free, 50m fly), so I really want to focus on these races next year. My 50m butterfly time is now within a second of my lifetime best, so if I could break 36 seconds I would be over the moon.

Now, I have a solid three weeks of training before my next competition and after Nationals, I am super motivated, re-motivated even, to get back in the pool for training. I’ve incorporated kettlebells into my training regime too, and love the exercises you can do with this versatile bit of kit, really helpful for the arm muscles, shoulders and squats.

Big thanks to all the organisers of Nationals, the officials, referees, volunteers and coaches. Big shout out to my teammates at Nottingham Leander too, you inspire me too.


Swimming Comeback and Undeserved Medals

A couple of days ago, I entered my first swimming gala in eight years. I quit the sport when I was 17 due to some club politics, an unsupportive coach and also because most of my friends had quit at that time too.

I decided to come back to swimming in December last year, after working at home, besides my once a week volunteer swim session, all my exercise was done at home too. It was an unhealthy cycle and I wanted to get out and meet new people. I joined a local swimming team in January and have never looked back. I only wish I had joined back in September when I first came back to Nottingham. The coaches are nice, the pools are clean, my teammates are friendly and I’ve been swimming five times a week.

So this weekend it was my first chance to get back in the pool as a competitive swimmer. The meet was especially for Masters (swimmers aged 18 and above) and involved a series of 50m, 100m and 200m events (both individual and relays) – I entered them all. There was a special challenge set by the organisers, to enter and complete all ten races, and by doing so, I won a bottle of whisky. Nice gesture, but as not a hard-drinker, it will probably sit in the cupboard for a long time yet.

The other prizes up for grabs at the event included 1) the Overall Age Group Winner, for the swimmer in each age group who accumulated the most points during the day (points are given for the time you swam for each event – the faster you swim, the more points you get) 2) Nottinghamshire County Champion Medals for the fastest eligible swimmer in each event per age group and 3) Spot Prizes for whoever the announcer deemed worthy, like the person in this race who comes 3rd, has the jazziest trunks on, etc.

In addition to the all 10 races whisky prize, I also won the overall age group prize (a new pair of racing goggles) and all 10 county champion medals. I didn’t win any of the spot prizes, which were bottles of shampoo and other toiletries, haha I’ve written about that before

I won the County Champion medals even though I wasn’t the fastest age group swimmer in all of my races. I was only the outright fastest in my age group for three of the ten races. Only swimmers who swam for teams within Nottinghamshire were eligible for the medals, so even though I was 4th in the 50m breaststroke, I still won the medal for that race, since the other three faster swimmers swam for teams outside of Nottinghamshire, and were therefore not able to win these medals. In theory, my wins were fair wins, in the same way if I went to Shropshire and was the fastest swimmer in the Shropshire County Championships, since I’m not affiliated with Shropshire, I wouldn’t be able to win any of their medals. But still, I feel a bit like most of the medals were undeserved. I swam as fast as I could, but my times were not as fast as they were nine years ago and other people swam faster than me. I’m certain that there are other females aged 25-29 in Nottinghamshire who are faster than me at all of the events I swam at the weekend, so it’s still quite embarrassing for me to call myself ‘County Champion’.

Me and my 10 golds
Me and my 10 golds

More to come on what I will do with the medals…

GeoPark Palm Sprint Tri

For the second year in a row, I entered the GeoPark Adventure triathlon. The race report for 2015’s Standard distance is here. The 2016 sprint is the first triathlon I’ve done in a year, and I was really looking forward to this race, only a couple of weeks after I’d landed back on British soil.

But unfortunately, this year I was quite disappointed with the event. It is a small event, but I feel it wasn’t organised as well as the previous year and there are still some issues that need addressing to make it even better next year. Most of this post will focus on those niggling errors, because this event has so much potential and I really want to be satisfied next year. It really is a great course and a fantastic triathlon to end the season with, especially when we have the weather to match.

Numbering: Numbers are always written on athlete’s bodies, but they were written on wrongly. Instead of being written on my shoulder and outer calf in a vertical direction (so people can read them) my numbers were written horizontally across my ankle and on the back of my hand. My gloves covered the number on my hand and nobody could read the number on my ankle. Let alone the people who wore compression socks for the run.

Swim: The buoys were a little small and not that easy to spot…also was this year’s swim too long or last year’s too short? As if you compare the times, there is a big difference! Last year the 750m was completed by most in 13-15mins, but this year the sea was calmer and it was 17-19mins for the ‘same distance’.

Bike: The no drafting rule, although important, could not be enforced for this course, before getting out onto the roads, there are lots of traffic lights and athletes do get caught at these and bunch up together at the lights. I saw some plenty of people drafting off others after junctions with lights. Also, it looked like some people did the whole course as a pair, swimming, cycling and running together…is this allowed?

Run: A lot of the parts on the run are narrow paths, and some places had a lot of overgrown thorns and bushes. If they could have been trimmed back a little, it would have been easier when passing athletes. If you need a volunteer to do this, get me a pair of scissors and I will do it!

Cheating: There was definitely some cheating going on in this race, whether intentional or not, there was someone who cut off a whole corner of the swim, and looking at the results, it seems that no penalties have been added. If you are local and know the roads, there are plenty of places where you could veer off and skip out sections of the course, including the big hill in Galmpton at the end. Although there were marshalls at the half way point of the run, there was nobody checking that when you ran down that last set of stairs, instead of running on to Broadsands, you didn’t just run straight back up again. It’s frustrating when you play by the rules, and you see others that don’t…and then realise they haven’t even been penalised for cheating.
“Goodie bag”: The goodie bag is usually one of the highlights of a race, although not everyone will admit to it, I look forward to seeing if I’ll get energy gels, cereal bars, bike wipes, porridge, vouchers or something else exciting…the race pack hyped this year’s goodie bag up up

Check out the Goodie Bags for a little something for the children or not, you if you get there first!

All finishers will receive a goodie bag, treats and souvenirs of the challenge you have completed. There is also a discount code exclusively for GeoPark Triathlon finishers to enter any other GeoPark Adventure events 2016

But when I crossed the line, I was handed a banana and a bottle of water, along with a rubbery medal on a plain green cord. I asked where the rest of the goodie bag was, and I was told they were cutting costs.

The most disappointing part was that later on Instagram, I looked up #geoparkadenture and found that the medals we got, that said GeoPark Adventure Triathlon 2016 were actually what seems like leftovers from the Torbay Triathlon they organised earlier in the year.

Reused medals and incorrect hand numbering

The medal was a step up from the mug I got last year which has been lost somewhere at the back of the cupboard, but I feel I’ve been cheated a little by getting a medal that other people have for doing a totally different event.

I love the concept of the GeoPark Adventure events, they are tough, hilly but so rewarding when you get those amazing views across the bay. What’s even better is that you don’t have to pay a fortune to enter, but next year can we please have an actual goodie bag with treats and souvenirs as promised?


Marathon Safety

Like all sports, marathon and long distance running both have their risks. Every year and during most non-professional races there are injuries: cramp, blisters, sprains, fainting, even heart attacks in extreme cases. Which is why it’s so important to train before any big event.

I’ve entered two half-marathons in China, and for both of them, as well as the self-responsibility agreement* you need to submit either a 6-month half-marathon race finishing time, or a health check-up certificate from the last year, which shows you have nothing wrong with your heart or breathing that may cause a problem during the race. I did a lot of triathlons last season and was never asked for anything like this, but I think it’s actually really important, and something that has been overlooked in other sports.

There’s been a sudden boost of long distance running participation in China, particularly over the past two years, and the attention to safety at both races I’ve been in has really been great. I’ve realised that long distance running in China is more of a middle-aged person kind of sport, most of the young people are volunteering at the water stations (located at 5km, 7km and almost every km after 10km), and as new people are starting to run, getting a health check should be encouraged. Besides the obligatory health-check/recent qualifying time, the water stations are really great. They offer both water and a light flat energy drink (red bull is given in your goody bag at the end) as well as snacks like orange segments, broken bits of banana and cherry tomatoes and soaked sponges (not for consumption).

The organisation says there is a volunteer every 100-200m of the race, which is true. They all have a compressed water spray thing which other runners had sprayed on their calves, a first aid kit and some bottles of water. I’ve been in races before where I’ve gone for several km without seeing a sign or volunteer and not knowing if I was on the right track, or who would help me if I fell (although athletes are friendly to each other in training, sometimes in competitions people disregard that companionship and would run past a wounded soldier).

Before the race, when I picked up my race pack, besides my race number, it also contained a small business-card sized information leaflet. It had very simple instructions on what to do in situations that may happen during a race: what to do if somebody faints, is sick, is unconscious and breathing (or not). Something small like this could really help in an emergency as basic first aid isn’t something everybody learns, and sometimes when something like that happens, you forget what to do. I really admire this, and think it could easily be adopted for other races and competitions.

Emergency safety card

The sign up process still needs some adjustment, as I forgot my login details and couldn’t reset them, and the contents of the goody bag have been a little strange (pickled radish, small bottles of local 43% alcohol, a theme park-style rain mac, like one you’d get on a log flume, grape-flavoured soap) but otherwise I’ve been amazed at how well these races have been organised. No corners have been cut and I hope this is not just in Zhejiang province.

Keep up the good work China, it’s great to see these standards at even the smallest of events.

*a document that says you take responsibility for any accident that happens during the race and cannot sue the organising body (pretty standard with all races)

City of Birmingham Triathlon – Race Report

After a long time without racing, today was finally my day to don the green and gold University of Nottingham trisuit as I competed in the UK Triathlon Series City of Birmingham triathlon. It was a long day, comprising of Olympic, Sprint, Super Sprint and Fun distance triathlons, for all abilities. Some competitors set off at 7.30am, but my race wasn’t until 9.45am so I got a bit of a lie in. Travelling from Coventry also meant that I didn’t have to leave my house at 5am and have a three hour coach drive to the event. It was held in Sutton Park and I was competing in the Olympic distance – 1500m (open water) swim, 40km cycle and 10km run.

I arrived, registered and got my race pack, with plenty of goodies from the race sponsors Mornflake. I had to stick my numbers to my front and back (unlike in other events) and had a bit of a pickle attaching them to my race belt. I could only safety pin my front number when I closed my race belt, which proved slightly problematic as you’ll see later.

I got to transition and stood speechless for a few seconds, looking desperately for my race number and where to rack my bike. I asked another triathlete and she said it’s a free for all system, so I could choose where I wanted to go. I chose a place close to the ‘bike out’ so I’d have less to run with my bike and managed to find an empty rack so I spread my stuff out nicely.

Transition all set up and knowing where to bike and run out of, I got into my wetsuit and went to the race briefing, where 60 ladies in pink hats listened to a marshal explain the course and tell us that the water was 19°C. I got in the water, after not having swam in over a month and waited for the klaxon. Most of the weaker swimmers stayed at the back so the start was quite calm – no kicks in the face, elbow nudges or ducking. We quickly split into two packs and I was leading the second pack until the second buoy, which hit me in the head as I tried to pass it. I lost a few places but carried on. It was a difficult swim because the water was so murky, I couldn’t see past my elbow.

Out of the water and into transition, I found my bike and started to take off my wetsuit, it’s a new wetsuit which is really tight at the ankles. A guy who was setting up his transition for a later race next to me helped me take it off with a few strong tugs. I stepped into my race belt – and only realised on the bike that my numbers were upside down, threw on all my other kit and ran over to the mount line.

The bike course was 8 x 5km laps on a stretch of Sutton Park. It was nice to be racing with some of the Olympic males at the beginning and have the Sprint males join us at the end, but it was kind of frustrating because I couldn’t pick out who I was racing against. Male and female trisuits are pretty similar and if women have their hair tied up it’s hard to see their gender. The course was hilly and winding with no flat straights at all. The tarmac was a smooth relief after the sections where tree roots had made cracks in the path and the ironed out gravel surface which slowed us all down.

Post Race Photo
Post Race Photo

I also had a close encounter when one of the sprint princes* shouted “coming past princess” and got in front of me. He’d just finished his swim and was trying to put his feet into his shoes, but they weren’t going in and he was losing his balance. He was wobbling a bit and I didn’t know where he was going so didn’t want to move. Our wheels clipped but luckily we both stayed up, he got clipped into his shoe and off he went.

Coming back into transition, I re-racked my bike, took off my helmet and set off running. I don’t have special cleat shoes for the bike so didn’t need to faff around changing shoes. I felt so heavy after the bike and the 10km ahead of me seemed really long over the country paths of grass, dirt and stones. It was 4 x 2.5km laps and the third one was definitely the hardest. I ran past some of the male Olympic competitors who by this stage were walking, although some were still running. Then some of the Sprint competitors who started after us, came through so it was quite a busy run. There was also a herd of black cows to pass on two occasions, but luckily they didn’t move whilst I was running past them.

I ran back into the finish line and had my name read out. I was relieved, hot and exhausted, yet I was still buzzing from the race and was eager to see my times. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a receipt-like service to print out your individual results, they were published on a TV screen and it was crowded so I couldn’t see at first.

After my massage, which was great on my legs, I went back to see my time and saw that I came 9th overall, out of 60 female Olympic entrants, and 1st in my category. My time was 2 hrs 53 but the results haven’t been published yet, so I still don’t know my splits.

Female Olympic Age Group Winners
Female Olympic Age Group Winners

I had fun on the course and picking up an age group win feels great, seeing as I haven’t been in the sport that long. My winning goody bag contained a new green and black silicone swim cap and plenty of High Five energy supplements that will keep me going in future training sessions and races.

A big shout out to the event organisers, sponsors, marshals and spectators. Although I enjoyed it, I probably wouldn’t do this particular triathlon again, as the 8 cycle laps became a bit mundane after the third but I would like to tri some other races in the UK Triathlon Series, like the Warwickshire or Stratford 220.

*Not all male triathletes are princes, I’m only calling him one because he called me princess. Some competitors can be grumpy and angry when in race mode.

1 girl, 1 bike, 10* miles (and then some)

So today I entered my first ever pure cycling race. I’ve obviously done some triathlons and a duathlon before, but I’ve never done a cycling event knowing I won’t have to run at the end of it. It was the Coventry Road Club‘s 10 mile time trial (TT).

The event is what it says on the tin, ten miles as fast as you can go. It’s you against the clock and although there were medals up for grabs, most competitors use TT’s to measure progress and improvement on speed, stamina etc. I was one of the very few competitors who actually cycled to the event. It was near Wolvey Heath, a small village 9 miles out of Coventry, but the people I spoke to drove there from places like Birmingham and Derbyshire.

Cycling there was the first hurdle. I knew the route but got to a T junction and read the road signs wrong, so took a right instead of left and added about 6 km on to my warm up. But I got there fine, registered and got my race number.

Number 32
Number 32

The race started at 2.01pm with number one, so I was due to set off at 2.32pm. It was about 1.45pm, so I chilled for a bit by registration, in awe of all the expensive TT bikes but also eyeing up the cakes that were on offer for afterwards. Then I did some steady cycling around the nearby roads. Most of the people were warming up at quite a pace, some on turbo trainers which I guess is understandable if they’d driven for an hour to get there, but after my 55 minute cycle from home to Wolvey, I was just taking it easy in the minutes before my race.

Then it was time, I got to the start line and ate a banana for last minute fuel to power me through. On the start line, a guy held me upright on my bike so I could clip in and have a standing start, he gave me a nice push too and I was off.

It was a flat course, with not much of a change in gradient, but I still hadn’t ridden these roads before, so all I knew was that it was straight down to the roundabout, turn around and come back. I felt pretty good at the start and managed to stay in a good gear, a couple of guys overtook me, but I wasn’t racing against them or their TT bikes.

At about the 6th/7th mile I started to struggle and my legs were getting tired, but soon enough, some marshalls cheered me on and I picked up the pace again. As I usually go about 25km/h, I figured I was aiming for a time of 38 minutes. I crossed the finish line and cycled slowly back to the registration area to see my time. There it was, on the board.

Leona – UoN Tri – Road bike, Novice – 33.47

I was over the moon! I celebrated with a warm cup of tea and a blueberry muffin and then got chatting to some of the ladies who were there. One of which is the female world record holder for 1000 miles cycling time trial! We chatted about the course, our times, other events, where we’d come from and all cyclists’ favourite app – Strava.

I waited until the medal ceremony and looked at the other peoples’ times. To my further shock and excitement, I was 4th female novice, which really put the icing on the cake (metaphorically, my muffin didn’t magically get iced!). I was so chuffed to set a base time for future cycling events (I will enter more) and to be 15 seconds away from a medal. I’m so glad I took part, thanks to all the organisers and marshalls, I hope I can get on the podium next time.

Leona on the podium
Leona on the podium

* Although it was a 10 mile time trial, I actually racked up over 34 miles today

The Race Pack

One of the best parts of race preparation for me, is getting the race pack. For triathlons, it’s usually quite a big 10-20 page document as it outlines the different sections of the race and things you, as a competitor, need to be aware of. There are maps of the swim, cycle and run routes and these maps have annotations, showing the dangerous parts of the course and arrows to show which direction you have to move in. There are also adverts from sponsors, checklists of what you have to bring and any race specific rules.

Today, I got the race pack for my next triathlon, the City of Birmingham triathlon in Sutton park.

Race Pack Email
Race Pack Email

As you can see, it also tells you your race number for the event. Your number is what identifies you from other competitors, so you can get your individual time. It also helps spectators to spot you, when you’re cycling or running with other athletes. I love the feeling of putting on my race number and I keep my numbers from all my races as do many other athletes. Some of my friends have them pinned to their walls, other filed away in notebooks and folders. Mine are a bit disorganised at the moment, they’re in a folder waiting to be stuck into a triathlon scrapbook I’m meaning to do, but I really like Marc’s medal display idea. I just don’t have enough medals to put on it!

After a manic May with three triathlons – BUCS sprint, Coventry sprint and BUCS standard (we like to do things in threes), I didn’t do any racing events in June. So I’m really excited to get my trisuit on and compete in the Birmingham triathlon in just over a week’s time. The race pack has really got my excited and looking at the maps, it seems like a nice course to compete on, with eight bike laps to do, I’ll hopefully get lots of encouragement from my family as I cycle past.

It’ll be my first event on my new bike, Blanca, and I have my own wetsuit now. I feel prepared for the cold lake water and the competition!! Wish me luck

Cov Sprint Triathlon

This morning, I competed in the Coventry Sprint Triathlon. As usual, it was a fairly early start, my race was at 8.11am, so I got up at 6.30am to have breakfast and finish getting ready, although I still managed to forget my helmet and we had to turn back for it.

It was a bit of a peculiar race, as instead of a wave of 30 athletes starting at once (5 in each lane, going at 10 second intervals), each competitor had their own wave. This meant I actually got the lane to myself in the swim, which was great as I didn’t need t worry about other people getting in my way, or me in others. It reduced waves in the pool too, so I was quite thankful for this set up.

After a good, hassle free swim, I got my bike and went off on the first short loop of the course. The weather was good, overcast and not a bit of wind. I managed to overtake someone, which is a rarity for me! I also had several people go past me, many already on their second lap. One guy’s trisuit was pretty worn out around the back region, so I’m glad he sped off and I didn’t have to cycle behind his…behind, for a while.

By the time I’d finished my first lap, my family were there in position, cheering me on. It was great to have them there cheering me on and shouting at me. On the second lap, I had a bit of trouble, as I tried to get a drink and fell off my bike, but I wasn’t going too fast, so just got a grazed, bloody knee. The bike was fine, so I carried on, it didn’t hurt. The marshalls on the course were brilliant, shouting encouragement, clapping, letting us know if the road was clear and one told me he liked my hair!

As I came in from the bike, in transition I was really wobbly and couldn’t get my balance. I could see me knocking over everyone’s bikes on the racks, like dominoes but luckily I stayed on my feet and went out for a mediocre run. A lot of the first half was uphill, so tough on my legs. My timing chip started to rub on my ankle and I wasn’t really in a running mood if I’m honest. But I carried on and when I got to the water station, there was a little boy there, with a neck warmer pulled up over his face asking me if I wanted water or an energy drink.

Lucky number 14!
Lucky number 14!

So how did I do in the end? Well, pretty well it turns out. I got 1.24.05, which was kind of what I was aiming for, at the same time getting a [race] PB in my swim with 6.34 for a 400m swim. It was also the fastest female swim of the day, which I’m amazed at. Out of 204 people, I came 102nd and within the 53 females, I came 10th, which again, I was definitely not expecting.

It just shows that with dedicated training, commitment, passion and preparation, you can achieve things you never thought before. I only started triathlon last October (didn’t get a bike until November) and this is my first race season. To place top 10 in my gender and even better in my category is such a positive boost ahead of my Olympic distance triathlon next weekend.

What now? Well I’ve been resting, catching up on Eurovision as I couldn’t watch it last night, and also a bit of Chinese handwriting practice. Then it’s a big dinner and an early night tonight!

I’d like to give a massive shout out to everyone who made today possible, the coaches and members of UoN Triathlon Club for making me fall for this sport (literally and metaphorically), my Mum for all the running around she did, the rest of the family who turned up and Kanika for listening to all my voice notes about the gossip at training. Also, not forgetting the marshalls on the course who were outstanding, the Coventry Triathletes for organising the event and all the sponsors.

To see the results of the event, click here and hopefully some event photos will be available in a few days.

The 3 Scariest Things at the BUCS Sprint Triathlon

Yesterday, with the UoN Triathlon Club, I went to Calne to compete in the annual BUCS Sprint Triathlon. It consisted of a 750m swim, 25km cycle and a 5km run. The weather forecast wasn’t looking the best and some people had to endure a thunderstorm whilst out on their race. Luckily, I went in the morning and got a bit of sun for my wave. Triathlons can be scary, especially for me as a beginner to the sport. Here is a countdown of the scariest things I encountered yesterday:

3. Scarecrows

Actually pretty scary

The cycle route was through quiet roads in the Wiltshire countryside and I’ve actually never seen so many scarecrows in my life as I did yesterday. What surprised me was that most of them weren’t even in the fields, they were stood up against people’s front door, or casually chilling at the gate when you cycled around the corner. They gave me a bit of a fright.

2. Flies in the eyes

I found this picture quite funny

Because the weather was quite cloudy for my wave, I decided not to wear sunglasses. Bad decision. As I was cycling, I could smell the flowers and the cows, it seems the flies did too and were all out for a Sunday fly. About 3 flies flew directly into my eye (always the left one) and several more full on smacked me in the face. Next time, I’ll wear sunglasses so I don’t have to worry about conjunctivitis.

1. Jigsaw

Scariest thing to see ever

The previous two are things which may be common at triathlons in general, but this one is more abstract. When I left the transition area and got on my bike, I cycled through a housing estate. In one of the cars, on the left hand side, placed on the passenger’s headrest was the face of Jigsaw from the Saw series of horror movies. These films gave me nightmares as a teenager and even thinking about it now gives me chills. So to see the face of the evil creature, come to haunt me at the beginning of my cycle really wasn’t a good omen. I’m surprised I stayed on my bike as it really scared me and I had visions that he too would come out on his little tricycle to take me away and give me some cruel punishment for immense procrastination or something.