Castle Howard Gauntlet

I have been wanting to write but haven’t been able to face it until today…

ironically what I needed was a super hit of endorphins to knock my head back into line.

The last couple of weeks have been epic. Since I started this triathlon journey I have always wanted to do a half ironman… it’s one of those challenges that lodged in my mind when I first tip toed towards a swimming pool. November 2016, on black friday, the sales called and Castle Howard was it… a big race, hopefully good weather and not too far to travel down to Yorkshire. 8 months to prepare…

With the training done I thought I was set but the night before we travelled my head just wasn’t with the programme… At 10pm I still had to find all my kit and lay everything out. For a race that really did mean so much to me that was way too close to simply not getting ready!

Ali was also heading down. It was amazing to share the excitement of the weekend with such a good friend, but horrible to see her struggle through a mechanical the night before the race. The reality of a broken bike so far from home really brought everything into perspective, for me it probably calmed my race nerves and filled me full of gratitude. I have gained so much from triathlon. The club has allowed me or forced me (both) to show up as my whole self… and it feels like a family. My confidence has grown so much these last couple of years. As I tried to get some sleep the night before the race I knew I had already won in so many ways.

Set up went to plan, the race briefing was long but really informative and great to visualise what was ahead. The water was perfect… sunny, calm, two laps out and back practically in a straight line. I can’t believe I am writing this but I loved the swim. Always such a weak spot for me but the water was warm – two swim caps was probably too much! …and there was plenty of space for everyone so no fighting or drowning! I knew once it spread out I’d be pretty far down the field, but it was a long day ahead and I really just wanted to enjoy it so for once didn’t let that frustrate me.

The cycle was hilly… tricky not to go too hard on the ups, I probably did. The first section played ping pong with people… sometimes doing a bit too much work to make sure I stuck to the drafting rules. After halfway everyone spread out which was so much better, just space to concentrate and get it done. Next time I need to take some actual food – second breakfast time came and I was properly hungry for a while, gels just aren’t the same and I am still learning with them. I had practiced up to 80k so was happy when it felt like things had gone to plan up until that point. The last 10k and then the last 5k seemed like they would never end though… in my mind I had completely blown up, I watched the numbers falling and couldn’t do a thing about it… I needed the gels but really really struggled to take the last one… a warning perhaps…

The run would normally be my best bit, but despite some drizzle on the bike it was now really hot. My legs had nothing and my stomach had stitch, which by lap two I’d put into the excruciating category… James gave me splits to the next place, 3 mins at T2, 2 mins after lap one… I knew I was unlikely to catch her and would finish about a minute behind. I settled in and just focused on getting myself to the line… it really was my best effort on the day. 6th place in 5hours 13mins 28secs. Absolutely loved it ?

Of course I am super happy, proud, excited… and totally fired up to find a course (and gel combination) where I can run off the bike (hilly bike, flat road run perhaps, any ideas?)

The thing with racing, especially as a newbie, is although I expect the crash afterwards it still always surprises me. My bubble lasted a few days and a really stressful week at work meant running on pure adrenaline. I’ll be honest, it’s been really difficult, I struggled mentally and my energy levels fell off a cliff. Race recovery takes away routine and that regular endorphin hit that buffers life’s challenges. Each time I promise to give up racing to avoid the crashes, but I love it too much…

The solution has been to get myself back on a start line… When I’d really convinced myself my legs would never run fast again a battle with an old rival over a 10k run sorted me out. I couldn’t hold onto her but that wasn’t the point, the goal was to feel better. I chose one of my favourite courses. I knew every hill, corner, house, pavement, and so many people from the Ayrshire running community, friendly faces and support everywhere.

I’m so glad to have finally managed to find the headspace to reflect and write this, it’s means so much to be able to express just how much I appreciate everything people have done to help me. I am so lucky to have found so many good friends, thank you.

I cant finish without saying that Ali is a total inspiration. Talk about overcoming everything and delivering what was needed when it counted. I’ve learnt that really sometimes the best thing about a race is someone else’s smile at the end ? Thank you x

posted by Natalie Stevenson on