2020: The bit where we were allowed out of the house.

Cotswolds 113 (half iron distance)

Early August saw our A race somehow staying in the calendar. With a combination of backyard bungee swimming and weekly lake trips, I wasn’t toooooo worried about drowning. I felt my biking was in a good place with all the turbo training and e-sports racing. Plus, I’d managed some decent half marathon runs. We travelled down on Saturday morning with enough time to do a skins swim recce, a bit bracing at first but lovely once we got going. Several of our Berkshire Tri Squad friends were racing too, so we managed a socially distant catch up over some carbs (wine counts as carbs…right?!) before bedding down. I slept very badly and probably felt 2nd worst in the group to someone who was having some stomach issues. But as this was the first and potentially only race to happen during 2020, the (very sleepy) show must go on!

The organisers did very well in making everyone act and feel safe – we had a rolling swim start, there were neutralised transitions so that people could take time to changeover safely, and there were mandatory hand sanitiser stations before each water stop. The swim felt pretty smooth. I’d managed to grab completely the wrong goggles so spent half the course being blinded by the rising sun, but I got into a relaxed pace and exited 7th fastest female in 32:29 which I was OK with, considering. T1 was fairly chill and I think I even had a chat with one of the marshalls on the way out! Onto the bike, usually my strong suit, it felt OK to begin with but by the 2nd of 2 laps my legs were clearly tiring. I was a little perturbed that I hadn’t seen any other BTS folk, and by the time I got within 5km of transition the local traffic had come out of the woodwork and I ended up queuing to complete the course…nightmare! Overall bike time was 2:33 and 3rd fastest female, again not too bad considering it hadn’t felt great. Finally onto the run, which was a 3-lap mixed terrain course. By now the mercury had risen and I’m sure it was lovely for the few spectators who were there, but for the athletes it was pretty hard going. Still, I found a good strategy was to run reasonably hard in between pit stops and walk through the aid stations – something which had previously worked well in the heat of Prague 70.3. I finished the half marathon in 1:48 (6th fastest woman) to come in “officially” (excluding transitions) in 4:55 and 4th woman, unofficially (all-in) in 5:05, comfortably beating my 70.3 best of 5:10 in Prague. Result!

BTS bling

North Coast 500 (ish)

With Canada world triathlon champs canned for 2020, I came up with the idea for us to take the van up to Scotland and tackle the North Coast 500. Paul doesn’t share my enthusiasm for bike-packing, so we compromised and Paul made an itinerary for us to tackle sections of the route in loops, with us driving to the next start point and stopping off in hotels/B&B’s along the way.

Day 1 was 128km and 922m elevation from Lybster up to John-O-Groats and back via Thurso. The weather was much better than expected, though the scenery was mediocre and John-O-Groats was a bit disappointing given that all the cafes were closed. We got an obligatory photo and carried on. Paul then entrusted his life to me as I drove us half an hour in the van to our hotel in Thurso… we lived to tell the tale so it went OK 🙂

John O Groats

Day 2 was 153km and 1580m elevation from Thurso and heading west to Bettyhill before turning south to Syre and then returning to Thurso via Kinbrace. Another corker of a day, this was Paul’s favourite ride of the week, with better scenery. We had an extra night in Thurso and a MASSIVE pizza each on the hotel bed, all in the name of recovery. Stay classy.

Somewhere between Kinbrace and Thurso

Day 3 was our bonus ride day – we drove from Thurso to Keoldale and ascertained that the “ferry” to Cape Wrath was running, though the cafe at the top was closed and the last crossing back was at 4pm. I say “ferry”… it was essentially one bloke in a tin boat! Despite figuring we might be tight on time, we threw caution to the wind (not something Paul is too comfortable with, but I like to try and be a bad influence in this respect :)), loaded up on snacks and supplies and hopped aboard with our bikes. Now, I am NOT a natural gravel/MTB rider, whereas Paul is much better at having a go. I didn’t enjoy the first mile or so (very gravelling, very steep descents) and will freely admit to walking some of it. But I did find my big girl pants somewhere in the first 5km and then the rest of the ride was really cool! We got up to the lighthouse, took a few pictures, scoffed a snack and then made our way back down. I even managed some QOMs along the way (all climbs obviously, none on anything vaguely technical!!). 37km, 656m elevation and our shortest day at 2h40 in the saddle. We stopped off at a lovely fish restaurant on the way to Lochinver and then finished up in a smart B&B.

The Cape Wrath “Ferry”

Day 4 was arguably our biggest day of the trip: “only” 114km but 2121m elevation. We’d had a glorious breakfast at the B&B and felt set for some hard riding. The route was b-e-a-utiful, very undulating though and as per the theme of the week, no cafes were open. This became a bit of a problem after an inadvertent 6 mile detour on the way back to Lochinver, as we’d long since run out of all food and drink. Paul had a serious sense of humour failure and was so far gone that my suggestion to have a much-needed short refreshment break at the fish restaurant we’d dined in the night before was dismissed and we soldiered on. Pity, as this was otherwise definitely my favourite day.

Some of the stunning West coast scenery

We were so tired after the Lochinver day that we skipped our last planned ride and opted for a rest. We made our way back via Loch Tay (which we did a lap of on the bikes, obviously) – somewhere I’d last been on my 30th birthday. For such a short ride it was fairly eventful… Paul was blessed with a bee sting under his helmet, and both of us nearly got taken out by a runaway sheep later on.

Box End Tri – Aquabike

In early September, we decided to have a pop at an event at our local lake. This should have been the venue for the ITU qualifiers and has been the venue for the British sprint champs in the past, but now was just being run as a socially distant event.

Paul and our friend Lou elected to do the sprint tri on the Sunday, whereas I wanted a bit more aquabike practice, so entered the standard distance on the Saturday. The rolling start swim was cold and not amazingly quick (my OWS pace for 2020 seemed to be firmly stuck on 1:48-1:50/100m, regardless of what I did in practice), but I got out onto the bike without drama. Despite going over and over the route in my head, I had one of my blonde moments and took a wrong turn at one of the roundabouts. Sigh. Still, the rest of it felt quite good, I overtook several blokes and my power was decent. Due to my very average swim, I missed out on the win, but I think it was still a worthwhile exercise. Chapeau to my Team MK teammate Lisa who came in 1st.

I followed my race up by riding out at sunrise to spectate Paul and Louise racing on the Sunday. It was a frickin’ cold ride, but by golly gosh the sunrise was stunning.

National 25 mile TT

After my unexpected huge PB in 2017 (1:02:26), I wanted to have another pop at a standalone 25 mile bike to see where my form was at with all of the hard Zwifting we’d been doing over lockdown #1, and the mileage covered in Scotland. As event day grew nearer the weather forecast looked pretty crappy and each day I checked, it only seemed to get worse. Together with how I was feeling generally, I considered pulling out. Ever since my birthday (when I had literally struggled to get out of bed) I had felt mentally not quite right – more down than I’d ever felt before, not sleeping too well and appetite waning. However, the forecast did seem to improve again so I sucked it up and we got in the van to Nottingham. Once again, I didn’t sleep well at all, and I went into the race feeling off my game both physically and especially mentally. I did my warm-up on the turbo and then made my way to the start line-up.

It was another dual carriageway race so essentially just out and back, with the potential to be fast but also zero shelter from the elements and lots of high-speed vehicles on the road. The first 5km or so seemed OK, but it was windy AF and once again I was reliving my 2017 nightmare of not being able to stay aero for any significant length of time. Without going into a kilometre-by-kilometre breakdown of how shit the whole thing was, I think the whole sorry ride can be summarised as: wind, arsehole drivers, more wind, swearing, gusts of wind, crying, cat 1 hurricane, turn-point, giving myself a talking-to, yet more wind, finish. I was so upset that I took an 11 mile cool-down along the dual carriageway. I had to ask a white van man where the best turn-off was after I started to worry I was going to go past the point of no return and hit a motorway. By the time I got back to the van, I had calmed down a bit but Paul was understandably doing his nut in with worry.

Photo by Mick Brown

My time was a disappointing 1:05:53. All of my pent up emotions from feeling mentally not very well together with the bitter disappointment at feeling I’d failed came out on the drive home, and I couldn’t hold back the tears. Although I’m definitely not a fan of windy cycling (no idea why I like Lanzarote so much!), I think the emotional fallout following this was really just the tipping point for where my head was at full stop.

Hill climb season

Back in summer I had entered the National Hill Climb champs on a whim. I’d only ever done one hill climb before back in 2017, where I had managed 228 watts for 6.5 minutes and placed 8th out of 12 women. After the disappointment of the 25 mile TT, I was determined to do well and put all of my energy into VO2 max sessions on the turbo and watching my diet. I needn’t have worried about the latter, as my appetite was continuing to disappear along with my sleep due to the hurricane going on in my brain.

By the time I participated in my test event at Berkhamstead Hill climb, I was down 3kg. Paul had also taken a metaphorical drill to my road bike and whittled 1kg off that. The climb stats for Tom’s Hill are 0.85km at a fairly steady average 7.4%. Having never done it before, I hoped to get sub 3:30. Surpassing my expectations, I managed 6th female in 2:47 and averaged 297 watts. Our friends Jodie, James and Lala came to spectate which was an amazing boost and probably half of the reason I did so well.

2 weeks later was the National Hill Climb at Streatley hill near Reading, and another 1kg lighter. For those of you who don’t know this hill, its stats don’t really do it justice… a mere 0.75km long and 13% average. However, the road surface is pretty crappy in places and the gradient maxes out at an eye-watering 26%. I had done this climb twice before: on my own on my first (aluminium, Evans’ own brand) road bike in 2014 and 6 weeks prior to race day, on my cyclocross bike. My times were 15:30 (I may, *may* have got off and walked) and a more respectable 4:25. With a lighter bike, a lighter me and the competitive atmosphere, I was hoping for a sub 4 minute result. My time came and I gurned and heaved up the hill, eventually standing at the steepest point. I think I overtook 2 riders, and upon crossing the line immediately collapsed onto the tarmac in a snotty, wheezy mess.

My official time was 3:32 with an average of 295w, placing me 36th female on the day…. way better than I could ever have dared dream of.

Closing thoughts? Forgetting that my head was not in a good place for a lot of 2020, I’m just not built for regular time-trialling. But I am build for and have a good enough pain threshold to be a hill-climber. Lets see what the 2021 HC season brings…