Friday 29 June 2012

Not long left to the first -real- test

3 weeks to Bolton and this week is supposed to be a final high-volume week before the taper into the race.  15 hours of planned training this week (the most ever by quite a bit) and I'm now laid low by a horrible ear/nose/throat thing.  Light-headed, sore, tired, cranky, and nauseated (due to the delightful pus produced by tonsilitis) but also hungry.  This is sub-optimal.

I should have seen it coming, given the last couple of days of training and how pants they've been.  It was probably an early indicator that my innards were on the decline.  The really annoying bit is that my longest brick ride/run before the race is scheduled for this weekend and it's pretty much the last time I get to try out any race nutrition changes.  I was planning to factor in using Gatorade (I'd link to information on Gatorade, but their web site is so awful, there's no point) as well as solid food, given how tricky solid food is for a number of reasons if it's the only fuel; carrying enough of it, actually eating it, avoiding littering, digestion and other fun things.  Gatorade is what is available at the aid stations on the bike course and I can't be self-reliant for drinks in a simple way throughout the 180km of that leg of the race, so I need to use the available aid and swap out bottles at least every 3 hours of cycling (so, probably twice over the bike course).  Having not tried it before, I'm not sure if it plays nicely with my stomach under the stress of endurance sport conditions and it'd be stupidity to go into the race just hoping it'll be fine.  I'll now need to rely on the final ride of any length left before the race which is the weekend after this one.  If Gatorade turns out to be not good, I've got no time to find and try something else under difficult enough circumstances to be sure.  Here's to hoping it is fine (and it seems to be for most people, regardless of whether it tastes OK or not).

Wednesday 20 June 2012

UK Ironman 70.3 2012

Having been in a state of work, commute, train, sleep or eat only for the last four months or so, I'd not actually had any time to do race preparation or planning itself until this day.  That was not a nice place to be, but nevertheless, I had a couple of hours on Thursday morning, after my 60 minute swim session, to think about and pack for race clothing, transitions, nutrition and hydration.  The weather forecast for the weekend looked not so great, rain rain rain rain and more rain.  And the general view is that the weather can and will change across the bike course, so even if you're ready for dry sunny weather, you can end up getting hailed on at some point - this actually happened on the familiarisation day, so I was ready to believe it 100%

It wasn't going to be too cold, but still I packed long bib tights in case it was really cold all of a sudden and to allow for a change in bike clothing for my planned 20 minute short spin on the bike the morning before the race to get my legs loosened up. Also on the packing list was arm warmers; these are the invention of the Gods!

So anyway, Thursday morning was decide what to take, pack it all into bags, find and take the cats to the cattery, pack the car and head off.  That all went relatively  to plan, though as usual one of the cats wouldn't come in to be packed up to the cattery until we were at the point of getting nicely wound up that we were going to end up leaving much later than we wanted to.  But then he did, and we scruffed him into the carrier and off they went on their holidays.

Packing the car... it's not really designed to take two bikes and luggage for two who have to pack for pretty much any weather conditions for 5 days away.  But, we have our method and it just about fits, including a decent tool kit for bike adjustments/repair when we get there.  Which turned out to be rather handy when MrTOTKat's brake lever came loose in transit and we had to take it off, remove the cable, do up the offending screw, re-thread the brake cable and put the cap back on again.

4.5 hours of driving and breaks for a rest later and we arrived at the Anchor Inn in Exebridge.  We'd stayed there for the familiarisation day and knew it was well placed, almost on the bike course route itself, not too far from the lake and with new owners, a new chef and some ongoing improvements to the facilities, a great place to base ourselves.  Plus, this time we'd been given the big room to stay in which was great for the two of us and all of our race kit.  We unpacked a bit, had a lovely fillet steak for dinner and went to bed to get some all important sleep banked.

My training plan had a full rest day, which meant a lie in until 8am.  Bliss!  Then it was up for breakfast, getting our bearings again, fixing MrTOTKat's loose brake, and heading out for registration.

The drive to Wimbleball lake needed a bit of refinement over a few tries of it as the most direct routes all included phenomenally narrow country lanes with few passing places and we wanted to avoid that as much as possible on race day to keep the stress levels down.  Having found a not particularly good route on the way to registration, we parked up in the field set aside for event parking.  It was pretty muddy and slippery and involved squeezing the car between two trees to get to the top field this time.  We had a bit of a bimble around the event expo as it was being set up and it s all low key and quiet given that a lot of people wouldn't be showing up until later that day.

Registration was a bit fun.  This was the first time we really got to see the extras around being two of the Ultimate Athletes as IM UK are now referring the small group of us signed up for all 4 of the UK and Ireland events this year.  We have special race numbers allocated that will stay with us through all 4 events - I'm 104 in case you want to follow on the athlete tracker at any of the races.  So we picked up our race pack, including the race programme which also features a piece in the Ultimate Challenge as well as the three race bags, swim cap and race 'tattoo's (skin transfers with our race number and age category to apply to right arm and right calf) and had our athlete wrist bands applied by a volunteer.

I was getting quite cold, so decided to buy an end of season 2XU long sleeved compression base layer to keep me warm under my other clothes for the rest of the day and then ummed and aahed about maybe wearing it on race day too.  Then we headed into Dulverton to explore whether there was a supermarket to get things like snacks and milk for post race recovery shakes and some late lunch and we encountered more fun relating to narrow lanes and streets.  Top tip for living in that area have side parking sensors and/or don't have a really wide car.

I had a couple of bits of pre-race prep to do.  A light jog before breakfast, 15 minutes, up the road and back again.  The really cool bit was that as we were heading out on our jog, we jogged past Eimear Mullen and then again as we came back in.  She was on the same jog plan as us!  Later in the day, I was supposed to do a 20 minute spin on the bike before midday but I decided not to as it was very wet and I didn't want to mess up my bike before the race and/or run the risk of having an accident so late in the day.  Around midday, we saw Eimear come back in on her bike - same bike spin session too, eh?

After lunch, we headed back to the lake to rack up our bikes and hang our red and blue bags in transition ready for the race tomorrow.  For those that don't already know, for an Ironman race, you get three bags; one white, one red and one blue.  The blue bag is the bike bag.  You pack with all of the stuff you want for the bike leg that isn't actually attached to your bike.  So, bike helmet, bike clothes, any nutrition that isn't on the bike (in my case a fistful of nutrition bars, Mule and Clif, to go in my bike top pockets), any other bits like sunglasses, overshoes, towel to dry off after the swim if you want to do that etc.  When you come in from the swim, you pick up this bag in transition, get all the things you need from it and then pack up your swim gear and discarded bike bits you don't want back into that bag and it gets taken away for you to pick up again after the race is over.  The red bag is the run bag.  In there goes all of the things you want for the run, any clothes to change into, other nutrition you may want with you, running shoes, peaked cap etc.  When you come in from the bike you get all the things you need from it and pack up your bike gear  and discarded run gear you don't want into that bag and again it gets taken away for you to pick up after the race is over.  The white bag contains the things you want at the end of the race, any immediate medical or nutrition needs (e.g. asthma inhaler, special recovery drink/food) and at the start of the race, before you go down to the start line, you pack away the clothes and shoes you travel down to the race in before putting your wetsuit on and that gets taken to the finishers' tent for when you finish the race.

Once you have hung up your red and blue bags at this stage, you can't get to them again until the relevant part of the race, so you need to be sure you have packed the right things in there - checklists with actual tick-boxes are very much your friend!

As soon as we were done with that, it was time for race briefing.  Given that it was still peeing with rain, the registration tent, where the race briefing was going to be, was very popular and despite the briefing being an athletes only area, there were friends and family in there both sheltering from the rain and soaking up the atmosphere until they needed to be asked to leave as there was only just enough room in the tent for the athletes and attendance at the briefing is compulsory for athletes.

The Ultimate Athletes got a mention and with briefing over, we pootled back to the pub for dinner and early bed.

Sunday - RACE DAY!:-
We had little trouble getting into the car park and had plenty of time to put our drinks bottles on our bikes and hang around, sipping water before the last calls for putting the white bags away and heading down to the lake for the first wave start.  As Ultimate Athletes, we were in the first wave regardless of age category (I should have started in the second wave otherwise).  After a 15 minute delay, we were ushered down to the lake to slip into the water and get ready for the gun.

...which never came!  There was a bit of chatting and we sang the National Anthem, at the end of which it seemed that people decided it was time to start, much to the surprise of me and a bunch of people around me.  No klaxon, hooter, cannon or gun.  Nothing.  Weird.

The swim course is nice and simple - a clockwise triangle-ish shape, out towards the other bank, along and back in to the shore, through the blue arch and a long trot up the hill to transition.

It was a pretty OK swim apart from the fact that about 200m in, the middle finger on my right hand went totally stiff.  I couldn't bend it at all, nor close my fingers next to it.  So, instead of a nice gently cupped hand to catch and push the water and propel myself forwards, I had a large holed rake.  Not much use really.  So, given that, the fact that I had very little power generated by my right hand, a time just coming in under 37 minutes wasn't that bad at all.  As I stripped off my wetsuit, I noticed that my right arm from about 3 inches above the wrist to the tip of that finger felt very odd, like I'd trapped a nerve for quite some time.  So maybe that's what happened.

I never look that great when I've just taken my goggles off - never mind after 1.9km in 14ÂșC water
I checked my heart rate watch as I got out of the water and it was blank.  Completely black.  No display at all.  So that was going to be really annoying that I'd not have any record of the effort across the whole race.  In terms of understanding for later races, this was not useful at all.

Trotting in to T1, it was easy to find my bag as we'd made sure we knew exactly where they were when we racked them the day before.  MrTOTKat and Kate's were already gone - they'd had great swims so that was good to see.  But finding a space in the tent to finish taking off my wetsuit and put on my cycling gear was a complete loss.  It was busy as all hell, so I ended up squatting near the exit.

I dumped out the contents of the blue bag, tried to dry my feet a bit but they were still very damp when I came to put on my socks so that took ages.  I hadn't dried my arms at all so my arm warmers took forever to put on and I'd left them inside out which was even worse.  All in all, my transition wasn't great at all but I've learned for next time now what not to do, so that's a good thing to come out of it.

Bikes were easy to find given the handy numbers we've got and from there it was a short walk to the bike mount line.  Again it was very busy and there were a lot of nervy people with short tempers fraying at the edges.  I mounted up carefully and navigated the one or two who'd toppled over into the bushes in the haste and stress.

I spent most of the bike leg like this
...instead of like this.
To cut an even longer story short, the bike leg was a mixed bag.  Good hill climbing, reasonable straights and undulations, but I didn't trust my bike at all.  At the first descent where I needed to brake, there was something wrong with my back brake.  The lever needed almost four times as much travel to engage the brake and it scared me an awful lot, especially given the very difficult long descent at one point on the course (you do it twice).  However, it worked well enough that I didn't have any mishaps - unlike the poor guy who crashed almost in front of me at the junction in the bike course between the end of the laps and the spur back to transition.  He went down really hard and then didn't move much.  Thankfully the medical team were stationed exactly at that corner and he got immediate assistance.

Lookit!  Sunshine! Check the cool shades!
I did get down onto the tri bars for about 60s of the 4 hours or so ride *sigh*
Thankfully, my bike computer worked perfectly and I used it mostly to tell me when to eat.  The plan was to sip drinks as frequently as practical and eat from 30 minutes into the bike and every 30 minutes thereafter.  I pretty much stuck to that, but on reflection, solid food only on the bike is too difficult.  It's difficult to negotiate and difficult on the stomach.  So, the plan for the full distance ones is to take nutrition in the drinks as well - which means training with Gatorade as that's what's available at the races.

Coming in off the bike 25 minutes earlier than I'd thought might happen, I felt pretty good, but had no idea of the overall elapsed race time as my watch was broken.  I heard the announcement that Eimear Mullen had crossed the line and was still clutching the tape.  Good for her that she'd won - that thought gave me a lovely boost as I jogged into the transition tent for T2.

This time there was less crowding and I got a chair, a volunteer to help and had a much better transition this time.  The volunteer tipped the remains of one of my bike drinks bottles into my run bottle and topped it up with water as I asked, packed away my bike stuff and dug out my running hat for me as I changed my socks, put on my run belt and shoes and hat and headed out onto the run course.

Running, complete with cycling top in one hand.  Duh!
After about 100m I felt odd.  Heavy.  Wrong.  And I realised I still had my cycling top on, with the spare bars in it in case I lost any on the bike - they were jiggling about in the back pocket, weighed me down as well as the 750ml of drink in the bottle on my belt.  The bottle was expected but the cycling top and bars were a total mistake and shouldn't have been there.  Chatting with someone from Hillingdon triathlon club, I decided to ditch the nutrition bars at the designated littering zone at the next feed station.  Things felt a lot better after that, but shortly afterwards I really had to take the cycling top off as I was starting to overheat.  It did mean that I had to carry my top.  Which was annoying.  I really didn't want to lose it as it's my favourite one, so throwing it in the bin at the next aid station just wasn't an option.  The plus side was that clutching something in my right hand staved off the swelling and stiffness that I often get in that hand when running.

It's hilly.  Really.  Hence the big variation in pace.
Crazy run course route
The run course is pretty tough.  As tough, if not a bit more so, than the bike leg.  I felt reasonably rough for about half of the first lap, but then got stronger and stronger through it, into the second lap and the majority of that lap.  I ended up talking to a lot of people on the run course, and on the hard uphill part of the lap on my final lap I came across Charlie and we chatted for a good km up the hill, down the next one and across the dam to the middle feed station before I pulled away while Charlie walked the feed station and I carried on running (One of the reasons I decided to run with a run belt with a drinks bottle is that it meant I didn't have to walk the feed stations.  The other reason is that I have practised a lot running with a drinks bottle and drinking on the go so I maintain almost the same pace while drinking.)  There were a couple of dark moments on the run, but the final stretches from the dam to the finish line were great.  I kept running and running, passing lots of people walking and not being passed by any other runners.  Then I got to the top of the final rise, to peel off right to the finish chute.  I could hear the dulcet South African tones of Paul Kaye, the MC, calling out "and here comes another one of our Ultimate Athletes..." and slapped a huge grin on my face, ramped up the gas and almost sprinted down the red carpet.

There's a picture of me as a kid running -exactly- like this...

Threw my arms in the air.

And crossed the line a very happy TOTKat.

I always wanted a finisher picture like this one :o)

Later on, as we took our bikes apart to put them in the car to go back to the pub, I found the problem with my brakes...

See that silver, round lever on the left (as you look at it) of the front brake caliper?  The arm should not be pointing upwards.  That's the "open" position for releasing the wheel when you want to take the wheel off.  I'd made a really silly, basic error when putting my wheels back on when we went to rack our bikes the day before the race.  I didn't check that they were done up and worked OK before leaving it.

Blenheim Sprint Triathlon 2012 - photos

I swam (1 minute faster than last year)

I biked (3 and a bit minutes faster than last year)

And I ran
Yep. Ran.

Actually ran.
 Running at Blenheim was a big deal, having DNFed last year.

Tuesday 19 June 2012

Ultimate Challenge: 1 down, 3 to go

UK IM 70.3:- 07:11:04

I'm hoping to write a proper race report later, with photos.  But, the short of it is that I finished.  I didn't die.  My heart rate monitor fatally broke right at the start.  I had a weird thing happen on the swim.  I made some mistakes on the bike (one real corker!).  And had, for me, a great run on a tough course.  Lessons to learn all over the show for the next one.

Thanks to the volunteers, Rotary Club, Ironman UK and staff... the conditions were tricky for everyone to put an event together, with the wind and the rain in the preceding days, so thanks to all!

Saturday 9 June 2012

A difficult, but good sprint

Blenheim last year was a mixed race, but a wonderful experience overall.  I always think back to what happened at the swim exit and run to T1 with fondness.  I was pretty early out of the water in my wave and despite the horrid 400m uphill run to T1, the reception of the supporters was absolutely amazing as I rounded the final corner into T1.  I was greeted by a huge wave of applause and cheering and it lifted me up higher than I've ever felt in a race before or since.  OK, so due to my knee troubles at the time, I had to stop racing after the bike leg and as a result did not complete the race, but the experience of T1 far far outweighed that on the day and ever since.

I needed this race in order to put in some of the final building blocks to get me through the Ironman Ultimate Challenge.  If I didn't do this race, I wouldn't be in good stead for the first Ironman (UK 70.3) on the schedule next weekend.  For me, these Ironman races are not only a significant financial commitment, but they come together to form a major life event for me.  Almost every waking moment when I'm not at work, I'm training or preparing for or planning for or thinking about these races.

So, I raced.  Some of you will know what a really hard decision to carry on and do that was under the circumstances of the 24 hours before and that I now need to be up all night to support something important.  And it was a good race, despite the mental turmoil.

The water was cold and very churned up and silty.  I got a good mouthful at one point when someone with a phenomenally sploshy kick was alongside me.  I got a kick in the jaw near the end of the swim too and the whole thing felt terrible, which usually means that it's quick.  And it was quick. A whole minute faster than last year.

The bike was windy as all hell, but again quicker than last year, this time by 3 minutes and 5 seconds.  Lots of people don't learn about the beginning of the bike course.  There's a short downhill run into a short rise.  People free-wheel down the downwards bit and then end up cursing and sawing at the pedals to get up the rise, instead of powering down the hill then using the momentum to swing up the rise.  There are a few sections of the bike course like that and with 3 laps, it's really something people should learn and take advantage of.  Anyway, I had some fun over-taking a good few people in the first couple of km and then over-taking and re-overtaking a guy in orange-soled shoes who was very distinctive.  Yes, there were a few people on squishy bikes with whooshy wheels that over-took me, but today wasn't about really slamming it - especially after yesterday's hour of spin bike work.

Oops, I left my bike computer on after the bike leg, so the last split includes all of the time for my last 5km of the bike, T2, the run, getting back from the finish line and then realising it was still on.  Still, very nice average and top speeds for not trying very hard on the bike leg.
The run... meh!  Turns out I could have give it a heck of a lot more, but again that wasn't the aim today.  The aim was to ease into the run and then see how I felt.  I felt OK, if a little warm and the rises weren't half as horrible as I thought they would be.  I got overtaken by a little blonde girl about 750m from the end, which made me kick up two gears and then curse the fact that I'd had those two gears and not used them - and there was plenty left to hold that pace -and- put in a sprint finish.  I got overtaken again by two more girls, who I hung on to, hoping they were only on their first lap of the run.  When they peeled off left to do their second lap when I was finishing my second, I laughed out loud because I hadn't been racing them, had a huge grin and sprinted to the finish.

Overall quite pleased, 7% faster swim, 7% faster bike and no idea about the run as I DNFed last year.  The results are screwed up online and there are loads of people who clearly didn't do 3 laps of the bike course, but I'm provisionally 9th in my age category and that is only likely to go up if the results are properly and fully scrutinised for finalisation.  So, for a race where I wasn't really racing, I had a great result.


Now back to work.

Wednesday 6 June 2012

Peak training session

After the hill reps on the familiarisation day, I had the hardest, longest training session ever.  A 6 and a half hour brick; 5 hour bike, 1.5 hour run.  And it turned out to be a tiny bit longer as you can never be -quite- sure about traffic and pace...

I was due to do 3 sets of over-gearing for 15 minutes but it got difficult due to the terrain.  Firstly, due to the awful road surface around East Clandon, I was just chowing down on a particularly tasty Mule bar, when I hit a bump and 90% of the bar (I'd just had one bite) slid out of the wrapper and bounced down the road, leaving me holding an empty wrapper and a grouchy expression.  Then as I decided to use the first hill to start an over-geared section, it was too high a gradient descent to carry on putting in any effort at all so I ended up with not even 10 minutes for the first repetition.  The second one I started before my favourite hill - Crocknorth.  I think I got about 12ish minutes in to the over-gearing repetition and then hit the hill itself which needed no over-gearing whatsoever.  The third go was coming in to Box Hill and included Box Hill itself, which I left myself in 4th gear for just to make it a bit harder.  Interestingly, I was a bit tired going up Box Hill and actually fancied leaning on my tri-bars, so I did that almost all the way up and it was fine.  In fact, it was really rather comfy.

On reflection, I don't think I'm doing over-gearing right.  Or rather, making it hard enough.  I don't know.  It's hard when there's nothing to measure against and I still have relatively little experience at all of this stuff.  I was doubtful enough that I decided to do one more over-geared section while out on the Thames Turbo route towards the end, where I did manage to squeeze in another 15 minutes of it.

Garmin gets over-excited about kcals - I actually burned 2254kcals (and consumed 1387kcals, 239g carbs - needed 300g for the ride, in theory)
I thought I'd done over 125km on the bike.  Mostly because I accidentally hit the lap counter when I was trying to get the display back to cadence after moving the position of the Garmin on the bike and knocking it into a different display that I really wasn't interested in at the time.  Hey ho.  So, it's still quite a long way and the furthest in a single bike ride to date - and with only one wee stop, the longest in the saddle to date.

Hopping off the bike at home, I scampered for another wee (yeah, I think I was hydrated enough despite having not finished the two 750ml bottles on the ride), changed out of my bib-tights and cycling top into capri tights and a running t-shirt as well as out of my cycling shoes and into my favourite trainers and off out for a 90 minute run.

It took a while to settle into a stride that felt OK - I was worried that all the fatigue I accumulated on the ride and the previous two days would hit home and I'd run out of endurance.  But no, this was a really useful run to have in the mental bank as well as physical.  Once I got into my stride, I felt pretty good.  And by the time I got home, I felt like I could have carried on.  It wouldn't have been pretty and I'd've been quite knackered, but I could have gone on.

My IM run pace is around 06:12/km (I think) and, after this brick, I now think I will actually be able to sustain that over 42km on the day.  This brick session showed me a few things, one of which is that yes although there is a certain amount of background fatigue that accumulates, with the appropriate fuelling and a good taper, on the day it'll be achievable.  I was worried that I'd just be really dead in the legs, they'd feel awful throughout the whole run and I'd need to use all the psychological tricks in the book to get to the end of the run course.

These are my km splits for this brick session and remembering that there is a non-trivial hill in there, that's some quite encouraging data.  And my effort level was nicely consistent...

Got 2 streets away and turned back to get a gel to keep me going - I didn't need to find out what bonking feels like today
I must say that I didn't feel sparkling when got home, but after a Recovery XS and a chicken and avocado bagel and a 10 minute sit down, I was fine to trot out to sit in the cinema for two hours.  And 8 hours sleep later (which I really rather needed), ready to get up and go for a 2.4km swim :o)

This brick session gave me a great confidence boost.  Mostly around learning that longer races are a little bit like the shorter ones; once you get stuck into the next discipline, the previous one fades in the memory a bit and doesn't have a huge effect unless you've over-cooked it and/or not taken on board enough calories/carbohydrates.  If you have managed your effort well and fuelled well, you're in good stead for motoring on.  I did 1.38x the 70.3 bike distance (with around half of the hills) and 0.75x the run (with 1/3 the hills).  After a few days of fatiguing myself.  And I feel fine. (and when I wrote this, I'd just done a 2.4km swim and another 1.25 hours on the bike - rest day today!)

Tuesday 5 June 2012

@ironman_uk familiarisation with @thetrilife

Because we're new to all this long course craziness, we thought it would be a good idea to get some familiarisation of the first two courses, Wimbleball/Exmoor and Bolton.  So, we signed up for the organised days run by @thetrilife - one at Wimbleball lake for the 70.3 race and one in Bolton for UK IM.

We'd arranged to do the Saturday for Bolton familiarisation but as it was going to impinge far too much on MrTOTKat's birthday so much he wouldn't have had much of a day, so thanks to the flexibility of the @thetrilife team, we switched to the Sunday one.

The weekend came and it rained.  Lots.  Friday was raining, Saturday was raining and the forecast for Sunday was even more rain.  So we drove on up to Bolton in the rain on Saturday afternoon (after my longest scheduled run on Saturday of 2.5 hours at my IM race pace, which was a great run despite managing to throw myself on the ground and badly bruise the heel of my right hand as well as some grazes) and had a rather too large dinner before crashing to bed, listening to the rain.

Sunday morning we met up with the @thetrilife team and the other course delegates - a couple of older gentlemen, another lady and a few of the usual 30-40something guys.  Duncan, one of the coaches, led the presentations and Liz explained that they'd learned from the day before that the conditions of the weather were really not conducive to a safe and useful day, so the agenda was changed.  We were intending to ride 1 lap of the bike course, run a bit to think about pacing, take a look at the swim area and transition and then back for Q&A.  As it was so wet and cold, we had a look at the lake and T1 area, drove 1 lap of the course and then rode 3 repetitions of the one significant hill (Sheephouse Lane) - the guys from the day before said that was the most significant part of the ride so it made sense to take a good look at that - then ran off the bike to feel the starting pace.  It was still really very cold and as I was woefully under-dressed (I'd expected to have put some effort in and got quite warm riding), one of the coaches lent me an extra long-sleeved jersey which was very welcome and took the edge of the cold for the first ride up the hill until I'd warmed up.

The hill.  It's not -too- bad the first time and descending over some slightly lumpy road surface on the way back down to the start (which won't happen in the race as it's the wrong way 'round) wasn't so scary.  Second time up the hill, the second phase of it was a bugger as it was so windy that the little dip after the first phase gave no advantage up into the second phase that it was hard to make progress against the wind.  Second time back down I was alone, the coaches split between the front group (with MrTOTKat) and the back group who were taking the hill very steady.  Braking on the rough surface in the early part of the descent, I skidded a little to one side and braked a little harder in fear of going over, such that I ended up fish-tailing and wobbling really very badly for around 20 seconds or so before recovering to stable again.  That was pretty damned scary as the bike swung rapidly from one side to the other a good few times, each time feeling like it was going to slide out from underneath me and I'd go over.  But.  I did recover it and once the adrenaline had gone, I felt quite good that I'd managed to keep it under control - I think that riding in the ice over winter helped give me a bit of experience with skidding/sliding.

Third time up the hill wasn't funny.  Still very very windy I wanted to swear a lot and loudly as a lot of the effort I was putting in was being defeated by the wind.  One of the coaches was riding up with me again, a different one than the second time (I think 2nd time it was Dan and 3rd time it was definitely Rich) and we were going up in silence, my bike creaking lightly and his a lot more (thanks for that, it makes me far less worried about my frame!).  I crested the hill around the left band bend, turned around and headed back down for the third time... even faster than the second time :o)  I really enjoyed the descent until I caught up with another of the delegates - the other lady - and had to be encouraged to pass her.  I had thought there wasn't much point passing as we were near the end and we'd need to re-group soon anyway, but got on with it, really enjoyed a couple of swooping bends, and we then rode back to where the cars were parked to get going for a bit of a run.

Ended up going quite quickly in the end - 57.6kph/35.8mph

We set off running and the pace awareness work that Rich has had me doing really paid off.  One group shot off with everyone in it except me, and then MrTOTKat and one of the other guys dropped back with me.  Rich was cycling along beside us as we trotted, and explained that the front group was running at 3hr 30 marathon pace - way too fast for us!  Dan dropped back to run with us, leaving Sam with the front group and we carried on at around 06:15/km - pretty much my IM pace.  A little 5km trot, then back to the car and the hotel for the Q&A session.

After a sarnie and a chat, we launched into the afternoon session where Liz went through some really useful mental preparation work, Dan talked nutrition and Rich explained about the final few weeks training and tapering and the team answered lots of questions about the course, logistics, worries and niggles people had and we wrapped up the day just before 5pm.

Overall the day was very productive.  Initially it had been quite disappointing that we weren't going to get to ride the whole bike course and that meant only 1 hour of riding instead of the 4 we'd been expecting, but it was better to be safe, see the whole course from the safety and comfort of the car and experience the one real hill of it.  We both came out of it feeling pretty positive and MrTOTKat was particularly pleased that some of the mental/logistics preparation work he'd already been thinking about was spot on.  Good day.  Well worth it.  And I'd recommend it to anyone signed up for an Ironman race to attend a familiarisation camp before the race.