A welcoming club on the North West of Edinburgh

The Northumbrian Half IM – Sunday 2nd July 2023

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If I remember right, I got sucked into this event because a friend (Jill Muirden) wanted to take on a half IM before she reached 50. I agreed I’d do it with her – this was back in 2021. Jill, however, had injuries that completely hampered her running programme – then subsequently took up weightlifting and became European Masters champion in her category! She’d found her new sport!

Dave Smith kindly bought Jill’s entry and Susan N, Dave and I were set for the 2022 event. Hamstring injuries for Susan and I resulted in us both deferring until the 2023 race, however, and we all know what happened to poor Dave whilst competing last year ☹

So forward wind to 2023, no excuses for me, I was doing The Northumbrian half this year, time to start training! The last half IM I completed was in 2018 in Arran. Preparation for that had involved a lot of run distance building – definitely my nemesis – so I entered the Alloa half marathon in May as part of my prep. I followed the Bupa half marathon programme and was successful in completing it – not without difficulty that’s for sure, but it was do-able. Run training 4 times a week, varying speeds whilst building up distance seemed to work out fine and I was happy with my time. After this event I knew I had a half marathon in my legs and I did try, alongside some short/faster runs, to do one long run a week, between 12k and 17k to maintain this endurance. 

 

I find running hard, like horribly hard. I have always been a morning plodder – a one speed kind of gal – from my late 20s, finding I enjoyed the headspace, fresh air and the solitude of a 6am run. So changing my speed of running is alien to my body! Additionally, attempting to incorporate cycling and swimming (and laterally strength work at gym too) into my week resulted in some pretty exhausting times. (I feel like a total fraud saying that – I work 3 days a week which leaves me 4 (consecutive days) clear! Other people who work many more hours than me manage!) Anyway, I did find this build up of the other disciplines hard and literally had to force myself out the door on some occasions. As your fitness improves though, then so does your enthusiasm. And longer days/lighter nights obviously help no end. 

I do feel the past 6-8 months have been tricky though. My lower back on my right side has given me pain for a long time now and the increase in activity volume was definitely not helping. I did see a physio when my back got so tight to the point I could barely move and was forced to take a week off work. She worked on my lower lumbar area, which was unnaturally solid and tight and hence causing pain. After a number of sessions with her over 7 weeks we both agreed that the only way of moving forwards with this was to do daily strength exercises. And that is what I have done – every single day, at least once a day. Sometimes, just because things are tight, I’ll flop over and start my wee routine! It has helped immensely. I still feel sore almost every day but not sore to the point it’s stopping me doing what I love. I now rarely slouch in a chair at night, I never cross my legs when sitting, I have a way of keeping on top of my discomfort. Worth the trade off to keep training in my eyes! 

So, as the day of The Northumbrian approached, I ramped up training a lot. Tuesdays were always my long day – 6am swim at Commie followed by either a longer bike ride and/ or a run. This routine worked for me. I tried to do my long run over the weekend and on workdays I fitted in my short runs in the morning, cycling or extra swimming in the evening.  

I’m not sure I arrived at the event feeling ready to take on such a big distance, but I knew the swim part followed by the cycle would be ok. We were allowed into Kielder Lake on the Saturday for a recce swim. Ordinarily swimming is forbidden on the lake, due to it being a reservoir and pumps under the water pose a danger so it was a treat being allowed in over that weekend. I was delighted that Kev had offered to marshal for the event, and he was allowed to join me for the recce swim. It felt warm enough, the water felt clean; dark water but no silt or debris that I was aware of, and you could still see your hand in front of you. I was glad that the recce swim was the day it was blowing a hoolie and the water was really choppy, and it wasn’t like that on the Sunday. 

The event started at 6.15am so I was up at 4.30, having an egg/toast/porridge pot/tea! Susan and I left the vans at 5.10 and we walked down to finish setting up transition. It was calmer at that time of the morning and the water looked fairly appealing. After a quick acclimatisation swim, we made our way out again and onto the jetty, ready for the start. Then we were off! 

The swim felt good after I’d stopped to pull off my goggles to empty out the water TWICE! I love OW – I feel fully supported by my wetsuit allowing me to make my strokes long and steady; a relaxed, therapeutic way of swimming for me. Kev’s “8-week faster freestyle” training has also helped with speed, and I completed the swim in a good time (8th lady out) and made my way to T1. I had laid out bib shorts and cycle jersey to wear and questioned my choice in my head once I reached my bike. It was fairly warm, no one else had bibs by their bike and my warm Castelli jersey seemed OTT. However, I stuck with my game plan and thank goodness I did! My trisuit padding isn’t enough to cope with 90k and I could see a number of competitors (mostly men!) shifting around in their saddle as the cycle part progressed! It rained 3 times and the wind really picked up whilst out on the bike course (this was the forecast) so I was glad of my wind/waterproof jersey in the end too. 

I felt strong on the bike. Within about 5 minutes I felt my legs were unusually tired, so I downed a gel right at the very start. This seemed to kick start my old body! Kev and I had recce’d the bike course about 6 weeks previous and I knew, in spite of the organiser’s saying it was a “brutal and challenging course”, there were no massive, long, steep climbs. The longest climb is 5k and even that was no more than 8% at the very steepest part I’d guess? The wind didn’t make it an easy cycle though, nicer when it was behind us on parts of the return leg. Funny because, perhaps it’s age, or maybe experience that helps but, people would scream past you on uphill sections, standing up on pedals, obviously choosing a very high gear to race up the hill. Then I, having used my very low gears and slightly faster cadence, would cruise by them on the flatter parts, my legs still fairly fresh and able to continue! Age has its benefits! The descents were incredible, roads super smooth, visibility great and the roads were quiet too. It was great to see Kev at the road end on the way down to the finishing area – standing in a dry robe and midge net, his own endurance evident too! It was a lift seeing him there and I sped up for the last descent down into transition. 

Right, ready for the run now…OMG, my legs!!! I have never felt my legs like this ever before! When I started running, the discomfort in my quads was awful, I felt sure they were going to burst open! This lasted for about 2.5k and I didn’t even make it to the 3k marker and I’d started to walk!!! It was going to be a long half marathon! I continued to run/walk the whole thing, stopping at 11 of the 13 fuel stops for water! I don’t think I drank enough on the bike – 2 bottles for a 3.5hr cycle isn’t really enough/the usual amount for me; perhaps it might have been slightly less awful if I’d been better hydrated? Who knows.  Anyway, as the end was in sight I was utterly delighted to be finished, exhausted but pretty happy with my effort. 6hrs 21- so slower than my last half IM in Arran (6.08) but that was in 2018 so I was younger then! Delighted (and actually staggered!) to be 1st out of 9 in 50-59 AG category/13th out of 51 females overall. Who knew I had that in me??!!! Apparently everyone but me, lol! 

One thing I do want to say is that my body is aging! Reaching 50 has been a turning point – much as wanted to refute this fact when I turned 50. Age was always only a number in my eyes. However, age has brought aches and pains I never had before; it’s brought slightly waning self-confidence in my sporting abilities, oddly even more than before! And more recently, it’s unkindly brought the joy of menopausal sweats, which, unless you’ve experienced them, you couldn’t understand! My exercise regime is very much ruled by what my body is feeling like that morning or day. I’ll head out for a run and I’ll know in minutes if it’s going to be a good or bad run. There are no patterns, no warnings and this makes training more tricky. However, it’s what I love to do, it makes me happy so, as long as I can still move, I’ll continue to be as good as I can be! 

I would highly recommend The Northumbrian half IM to everyone – well organised, incredible scenery and a decent, challenging course. Oh, and the goody bags were really good too! 🙂

Event next year on Sunday 30th June 2024, Full and Half Iron distance! Kev and I will be there!