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Dalesman Full Distance Triathlon by Sophie Hedges

It was only when I thought this race was going to be taken away from me when I realised I need to enjoy it, embrace every minute and not put too much pressure on myself to succeed. As a replacement for Ironman Kalmar it’ll be my first full distance race and what will be will be. So with the relief of a negative PCR test it was on to the next hurdle, delaying mother nature! Turns out they have a very effective pill for that so it was time to focus on my final week of tapering. Every cycle and run felt like hard work, my legs were struggling to hold the watts or pace, this made the challenge ahead seem even more unachievable. Nevertheless the days ticked down, the strange dreams set in and the day before finally arrived. Campervan packed, lists checked and double checked and we headed over to Ripon.

The venue was a triathlete's dream. 500m from our accommodation to the transition area, the lake and the all important facilities. We set to work setting up camp and after wrestling with the awning, it was definitely time for some food and a lie down. Registration time finally came as did the rain. Into transition, scouting out my number along the rails to find I had the ideal position, second to last bike on the end of the rack, dreamy! Kit bags to the marquee and a quick recce of the swim in, bike out/in and run out points before leaving all our pride and joys sat overnight covered in bin bags looking more like a landfill than a transition area. Pre race meal was calling, chicken in sauce with some salad and bread, not really the carbs I was hoping for but made up for it with the 80% sugar flapjack for dessert. A quick visit from Hayley, Duncan and the kids before the arrival of Camilla, zapped of energy, it was time for bed.

Sleep didn’t come readily, I told myself that it’s just another race, I’ve been here before, there's no need to think anymore, it's time to shut off. I think about the hours of training, I assure myself I can do the distances but my heart pounded regardless echoing in my ears preventing sleep from settling in. I saw each hour from 9pm but must have slept at some point after 2 as I was awakened by my alarm at 4:15.

The morning was grey but dry, a welcome sight after all the rain, routine set in as 6am was approaching rapidly. Cam and her crazy hair sprung into action to hold my wetsuit while I faffed. All I could think of was how the hell was I going to hold a poo for 12hours plus!? It turns out I would have to find out as the race briefing started and nothing had made an appearance. Checking in with Ali, sharing our well wishes as she made her way into the beautifully still lake for the first wave. It was finally my turn, into the lake to the starting buoy. The water was a pleasant 17 degrees, and the weed was thick.

We set off! This was it, the beginning of my first full distance triathlon. I stayed calm and tried to get in a position where I could benefit from someone else’s efforts. A group of 5 swimmers set off in front of me and I tried to get on their feet but the pace was just too much. So I gave up trying to chase them and settled into my own rhythm. My thoughts of the weed took me to a public swimming pool when you get hair caught in your fingers. Shaking that thought out of my head I focused on ticking the loops off making sure I had counted right (counting to 3 when swimming is harder than you think) finishing up the small lap it was time to head to the exit ramp.

Transition went smoothly enough, it took some time to find my bag but once found, wetsuit off, helmet and top on took a gel on board and it was time to go. Feeling confident that I knew the route, having reccy’ed it a couple of weeks ago with Ali I remained relaxed and let the kilometers pass me by, then I remembered I needed to eat! It wasn’t quite the sunshine and tailwind Steve had promised but pretty perfect race conditions nonetheless. The course was hilly enough to keep your mind focused and the views were incredible! My smile grew bigger as I had an amazing support team of cheerleaders who made me feel like I had a team car in the Tour de France.

On the bike I spent most of my time keeping an eye on a girl in a Royal Navy trisuit who later on I found out was called Nicki. I could see she was a strong rider so didn’t want to lose her, but my bike had other plans, bottle cage malfunction #2. I pulled over to fix it but realised my tool wouldn’t fit into the gap that I needed it to, back on the bike all I could do was watch it loosen even more. The water bottle finally gave up and made its way down the hill, again I stopped chasing it down the hill knowing there weren't many opportunities for water on this course, shoved it down my top and carried on. Eventually the cage freed itself completely so again I jumped off the bike, dumped the bottle and replaced it with the cage (I wasn’t replacing all that kit for a second time!). Worst of all, I had lost my carrot (Nicki).

I dwelled on this malfunction for far too long, hydration strategy out the window, 1 more lap to go, I made a new plan, put my head down and pushed on. To my luck Nicki had had the same malfunction so we were back on even ground. Nearing the end of the hills I let her push on thinking I need to ride my own race and save myself for the run. Meeting Ali at the traffic lights which has stopped her dead, absolutely gutted for her but happy that we could have a quick check in before the run and even better we got to ride into the race course together where we were met with a wall of sound, an unbelievable amount of supporters and they were all for us! Some unexpected faces and the spirits were high again as it was onto the next task.

Full change, a realisation check (we’ve actually made it to the run!) and a pact with Ali that we have gotten this far without going to the toilet we can’t give up now. So off we went on our 26.2 mile journey, the final hurdle! Nicki had beaten me out of transition which meant my carrot was back out there for me to chase. Unfortunately this friendly rivalry ended very soon into the run when I passed her in pain, offered her a gel which she refused and told me to keep going.

The first 5km felt comfortable, nice to be off the bike and standing upright again. But all I could think of is I really need a wee! So I began scouting out places, settling for a break in the hedges and into a field, no runners saw me as they were all running away from me but I did give a couple of ramblers a nasty sight, so sorry Ali the truth is out I broke the pact!

First lap complete, the spirits were once again lifted by the OTCF support, it was time for loop two. Lap two came and went and on to lap 3, God what I would do to be back on the bike! The different terrain took its toll, my back was aching, shoulder stinging and my stomach was in some sort of knots. The loops got harder and what felt like longer, the athletes got quieter and by the two shorter laps they were few and far between. Finally, I had collected my five bands and started my glory lap, shouting to the support crew this was it, there was a lot of doubt amongst them but I was adamant I had counted right, I checked my watch for distance and my wrist for the bands but I knew without having to look it was time.

The black arch was a welcomed sight, I’d actually finished and I could stop moving. 2 years of hard work, blood, sweat and tears had gone into this moment and I had achieved my goal of sub 12 hours. My smile was big. To top off my day, I got the honour of being able to cheer Ali around the final lap of the course and through the finish line, what an amazing performance. We’ve done it Ali!!

To all my OTFC training buddies (yes Cam that includes you, I know you wanted a name drop) and supporters, to my family and amazing friends it is because of you that I have made it to the end of this journey, so a big thank you to all of you. On to the next challenge!

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