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.

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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?

 

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Olympic Dreams

Without really realising, I’ve always liked a lot of sports. I remember Saturday morning spent at Ernesford Grange sports centre, where I’d go swimming 9-10am, trampolining (with wet hair) 10-11am and then badminton 11-12pm. In primary school I played football and did cross-country running. Then in year 7 I joined pretty much all the sports teams: athletics, swimming, netball, rounders, basketball and I even went to 8am fitness classes with a couple of other guys before school at 8.50am.

But I never really specialised in any sport until I was a lot older. I was always good at swimming, being labelled a ‘water baby’ by my swimming teacher. But after I got my gold award aged 9, I stopped swimming. Sure, people had told me about joining ‘the squad’, but I’d also heard rumours about 5am swims before school and I wasn’t ready for that.

When I finally decided I wanted to swim, I was 14, my inspirational PE teacher Mr Burder, who was (and I hope still is!) a triathlete got me a trial with City of Coventry Swimming Club (COCSC) and I got in! I started just by swimming casual lessons on Friday evenings, but then I was later spotted by another coach, who bumped me up into the proper squad, where there were more training sessions and the chance to compete in races. It was great, I loved the training and my closest friends are still the swimmers from COCSC. When it came to racing, I was already in the oldest age category (14+). I saw younger swimmers who were incredible and wondered why it had taken me so long to start swimming.

Anyway, after quitting swimming, I have taken part in other competitions and tried new sports, but I always feel like I’ve left things too late.

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With the Olympic rings behind me in 2008 Olympic sailing city Qingdao

Recently, two of my friends have been selected to represent Team GB at international triathlon events, I know an Olympic gymnast from school and a girl from my Spanish class is a champion jiu jitsu-er. I know a Team GB canoeist too. I used to think top athletes were on a totally different level from ‘average people’, but from my friends’ experiences, I can see that maybe it’s not that hard after all.

At university, I only started triathlon in my final year, and I know if I started it in my first year, maybe it could have been me in blue, red and white too.

I dreamt the other night that I was swimming and after the session, I asked the coach how I did. He said I’m one of the best swimmers this city has seen, but I’ll never make the Olympics, I’m too old. It was devastating to wake up from that dream.

Although I’d love to be in the Olympics, I think I like variation too much. I can’t concentrate on just one sport, even multi-sport events like triathlon…I’m always doing something else on the side to switch it up. Maybe I’ll never be a black belt in taekwondo, or maybe I’ll never specialise in one given sport, but I think I’m ok knowing I won’t be in the Olympics any time soon (it’s too late for Rio, and I don’t want to go to Japan). But dreaming about my failed Olympic dream sparked a whole range of emotions about my sporting life so far…

Own Your Sport

As an athlete, or someone who plays sport, no matter what level, you’re probably going to require some equipment or special clothing to be able to keep take part – running trainers, a badminton racquet, swimming goggles, yoga mat, tennis ball, shin pads etc. Most sports groups have club equipment that you can borrow at sessions so you don’t have to spend money on your own before deciding if you really want to carry on with the sport or if your budget can’t stretch to afford these items. These are great to get people initially interested in sport and most local sports centres hire racquets, shuttlecocks and balls along with the court. But today I want to talk about when you make that step and invest in your own sport – Owning Your Sport.

I can still remember going to the sports shop to buy my first badminton racquet when I was about 9/10. I got a blue Yonex Musclepower one and I loved how light it felt in my hands compared to the bulky, sweaty club ones I was used to borrowing. It was shiny, beautiful and clean, but most importantly, it was mine! I kept it in it’s case and took it to training sessions and tournaments. It’s still in the cupboard now!

About a year ago I decided to join the triathlon team. My aim was to complete A triathlon (just one), not the six that I’ve done this year. Although I got my team’s green and gold trisuit back in November, I still didn’t feel like I completely ‘owned’ triathlon, and it felt wrong to call it my sport, I kept calling myself a swimmer. I was borrowing a bike from the club and although I named him Eddie, I knew he wasn’t right for me and I’d have to return him at the end of term.

Then, in June this year I got my own bike. A lovely yellow and white ladies bike – the right height for me too – and I named her Blanca. Since then, I’ve done two triathlons and a cycling time trial and love taking her out for rides. Owning a bike makes me finally feel that I can call myself a proper triathlete, as I have all the basic equipment that I need to complete one. Sure I don’t have a fancy TT bike, cleats or an aero helmet but I’m happy with what I have and now feel like I own my sport. It’s empowering to own my own equipment, not have to rely on borrowing from others and I feel proud.

What about you, do you feel like you own, embody and promote your sport? Share your stories. If not, I challenge you to do so!

Blanca at GeoPark Adventure Tri
Blanca at GeoPark Adventure Tri

GeoPark Adventure Standard Triathlon – Race Report

This Sunday was the GeoPark Adventure triathlons, there was a sprint and a standard distance and I knew this would be my last race for the time being. Looking at the maps of the course, I also knew it would be the hardest event I’d done so far, as it consisted of a 1500m sea swim, 42km of rolling hills and a 12km undulating run across the coast near Paignton, in Devon.

After struggling to find a space to rack my bike (there were no number assigned places) I got ready, with my trisuit, swim caps, goggles and wetsuit. I went over to the race briefing with the 70 other participants and listened to details of the course. The marshall said it was one of the toughest triathlons in the UK, which made me feel quite nervous. But I was determined to enjoy this last race and not kill, or overexert myself in the process.

The moment I stepped down into the steps into the water and a big wave of cool sea water came over me, it was high tide and there was no time for hesitation. I got in and the two minutes acclimatisation time passed really quickly as before I knew it, the klaxon sounded and we were off. The first lap was quite difficult as I couldn’t get into a good rhythm with my stroke and trying to spot the green buoys when everyone is wearing green swim caps was tricky! On my second lap, I felt better and overtook a few people but swimming back towards the exit was the hardest part.

Swimming in the sea
Swimming in the sea

After the swim, it was T1 and I couldn’t undo my wetsuit, I was struggling and pulling and tugging but the zip wouldn’t come down. Luckily, a kind lady helped me unzip and soon we were both out on the bike course. In the triathlons I’ve done with lake swims, I’ve had a horrible lake water taste in my mouth, but the sea water wasn’t too bad.

Getting out of my wetsuit
Getting out of my wetsuit

The bike course was going to be challenging, but one thing I feel was a bit unfair was that getting out of the town to the country roads, there were several sets of traffic lights. When competitors stopped at the lights, we lost a couple of minutes and there was no time taken off for abiding the highway code and stopping at the lights. It was frustrating too, as I lost the groups of people who were in front of me.

Anyway, the course was hilly, there were descents that were so fast and curvy they scared me, as I had no idea what would be waiting at the end – a T-junction, an uphill climb, a parked car, reversing car, another cyclist – I even heard there were horses on some parts of the course. Not knowing the roads made it hard and also the sheer intensity of the hills. Some athletes got off their bikes and walked up the hills, they were so steep. I spent many minutes crunching away in my lowest gear trying to make it up the steep hills.

The narrow country roads were great for glimpsing spectacular views, but they required attention, careful riding and decision making. At one point, two big cars were trying to pass each other but there was no passing place, the cars were at a stand-off and me and another lady were waiting for the motorists to figure something out. It was frustrating, not being able to advance but I imagine things like this must have happened to everyone at some point of the race. In total, I was cycling for over 2 hours.

Back to transition (T2), I rolled my bike onto my rack, undid my helmet, picked up my cap and off I went. My T2s are always pretty speedy as I don’t need to change shoes, so my T2 was the fastest out of all the competitors, at 00.00.35. The run was absolutely spectacular. It was my favourite part of the race and probably the nicest scenery I’ve run along in the UK. I first ran down the promenade, with sunbathing families on the beach to my left and old couples in deckchairs outside their beach huts to my right. Then I went up and down coastal steps before going across some hidden stony beaches towards the woods and had a lovely trail run through the woodlands. It reminded me of running in the Canary Islands and I was just having a great time taking in the scenery that I didn’t want to run any faster. I was jogging at a slower pace but I was so happy, my face was beaming and I’d never felt better.

On the way back, we ran across a golf course, through some more woods, past some trainspotters, more kids on the beach and on the home stretch, I had enough energy left to run past 5 others for a sprint finish. The sunbathing crowds were great sports, clapping us all along and moving out of our way. They smiled and were really encouraging. I already said it was going to be the hardest event I’ve done so far and with a finishing time of 4 hours and 3 minutes, it deserves the tagline “Beautiful yet Brutal” that some people have used on their Facebook. I was the 9th female to cross the line and 7th in the senior category, which I’m pleased with.

Sprint finish
Sprint finish

Overall, I highly rate the GeoPark Adventure triathlon, the scenery was immense and the course was challenging. It was also quite a small scale event, so all the photos have been published on Facebook and you don’t have to pay ridiculous amounts for a copy. Instead of a medal or a tshirt, I got a mug for participating, which I had a nice cup of tea in when I got back. It would have been nice to have numbers on the bike racks, swim caps that are different colours to the buoys and some minutes deducted for waiting at junctions, but these are minor details.

They also do other events, such as runs, swims, sportives as well as the triathlons, so check them out if you’re in the South West and want to try out or volunteer at an endurance event. I hope to be back next year to improve on my times and take on the challenge again.

All photos are taken from the GeoPark Adventure Facebook page.

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.

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

Training Solo

I’ve finished at uni (for good!) and am now back at home for the summer. The move back to Coventry has also meant that I can’t train with the amazing guys and girls at UoN Triathlon Club. I originally planned to join the Coventry Triathlon Club, but their training timetable isn’t as convenient as I thought it would be. Some of the sessions are across the other side of the city and with my summer jobs, I can’t always make these. So I’ve resorted to training solo.

I’ve posted before about the benefits of practicing an individual sport as part of a team and it is difficult coming out of that environment. It’s easy to fall into the trap of not going to training sessions and believing that with one cycle and one run a week, you’re doing enough. It’s one I started to fall into, as I started some part time summer jobs and lost motivation to train.

Until I got Strava.

Strava is an app which tracks your movements (cycling and running), you can follow your friends/team mates and see the efforts of other athletes. There are also segments of road where you can race against other users to be King (or Queen) of the Mountain. Since getting more involved with Strava, I’ve been more motivated to get out and train, even if I don’t have much time on my hands.

I’ve got two triathlons coming up, City of Birmingham and Paignton, so I still need to keep in shape and work on my mileage on the bike and out running – especially as they’re both Olympic distance! I’m not sure how I’ll perform at these next two triathlons, but I’m keen to enjoy myself and races are a lot easier when you’ve put in lots of training effort beforehand.

Last week, I did two runs, a small 5k one and a longer 12.5k one too. I also did a quick cycle to the betting shop, where I won the prize of Queen of the Mountain on The Drive (a steep hill where my primary school is) as well as a long 60km cycle this morning. Next week I’ve got more free time, and I’m hoping for a couple of mid-distance rides and aiming to run every other day.

Training on your own can be hard, but I think when you put your mind to it and see what other people are up to, through apps like Strava (which also help you to track your pace, distance and elevation) training without a team isn’t a barrier.

The Freedom of Cycling

Over the past month or so, I’ve started to really enjoy cycling. It’s so refreshing being out in the country roads and on two wheels. You’re always alert and looking out for potholes, listening for cars, watching out for flying insects and other cyclists. But at the same time, I find myself switching off from the world and not really thinking about anything in particular. It’s living in the moment and enjoying the minutes as they pass by.

Each ride is different. Even if you go out for a three lap circuit, on each lap there will be different drivers, obstacles, birds singing and smells in the air. Cycling through the British countryside may seem monotonous to some, but I’ve found it’s really got a lot to offer and racing against others through the Strava app really makes it fun as I compete to win the QOM (Queen of the Mountain) achievement on certain stretches of road.

When I started triathlon, I never thought I’d like cycling, as it was my weakest discipline. I’m still not as speedy as others are on two wheels, but I’m definitely improving and liking it more each week. Last week, I cycled 80km in one day, which would have made me cry at the beginning of the year, but I just got on and did it. And the best part of that day? It was FUN!

I’m trying to do longer rides in the build up to my upcoming triathlons but this week I’m doing school talks all around the West Midlands, so am not sure how much free time I’ll have, but I know when I get on my bike, I’ll enjoy going new places, seeing new things and building up strength to go further faster!

Swim Bike Run – A Review

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up this book in the Works, it just jumped out at me and for less than £5, I had to buy it.

Swim Bike Run
Swim Bike Run

I’ve just finished reading it and would like to share a review of it with my followers.

Firstly, this book is probably most suited to triathletes or those who already take part in endurance sport. In some parts, the Brownlee brothers talk about the intensity of their training which would probably put off a lot of first time people. They talk about training 7 hours a day, which is probably what I do over a 5 day period. When reading this book, you have to bear in mind that they are world class, elite athletes and what they do is their passion and their career, which means more hours cycling, running and swimming.

Throughout the book, there is narration from each brother and they tell their story of their triathlon journey from young boys to Olympic champions in 2012. It’s really interesting to read how the brothers differ as people although they are training with the same intentions, they have different ways of doing things. I know which brother I like best!

I hoped the book would inspire me and it definitely has, in one point, Al says about how important it is to keep drinking on the cycle, so I took that on board in the triathlon I did last weekend and tried to take a sip of my water on the bike. I’ve never been able to keep my balance and take one hand off the handlebars for longer than a couple of seconds before, so why I thought I could do it in a race, take a drink and put the bottle back in the cage, is beyond me. I ended up falling off. But it goes to show the belief the guys gave me in myself.

Another thing I’ve taken from the book is this quote:

To make it you have to love training more than anything else, and in particular you have to love the bike

Those that know me well know that I’ve been naively waiting for a eureka moment, when I’m suddenly able to ride like a pro. That’s never going to happen on it’s own. So I’ve booked myself on to a cycling training workshop for intermediates, led by a local charity in Nottingham. My confidence has come on loads since September, but I can’t be falling off my bike every time I get thirsty, so need to learn to love cycling to be able to get out on those long, hard rides and stack up the miles in order to be able to take on the challenges on the cycle of a triathlon course. I hope the cycle training and later bike maintenance courses will help me to take control of the bike and my cycling.

The book also made me reflect on my own relationship with sports. I highly doubt I’ll get picked to be in the Worlds or Olympics now, but reading the experiences of the Brownlees in their 2012 triathlon was pretty awesome. I wasn’t really into triathlon back in 2012, so didn’t see their race, but now I’ve read what they experienced, I’d like to watch some of the highlights, this Gomez guy seems very interesting too.

Brownlee, Brownlee, Gomez, Kitzbuehel 2012
Brownlee, Brownlee, Gomez, Kitzbuehel 2012

In summary, I think those who are already into the triathlon mindset will gain the most from reading this book, there are coaching tips, example training sessions and these guys are local heroes (if you’re British). I’m not sure if some parts may scare off those curious about triathlon or encourage them to get out and start training. The ending was a bit anti climatic, but I think it’s better that way, as the brothers’ story is not over yet.

If you’ve read this book, let me know what you took from it.