Yes, yes, YES.
Regular readers will know what’s coming……
For new readers, brace yourselves, you are about to be subjected to a barrage of me eulogising about my quite amazing lady wife. Our lives of challenges and adventures brought us, last weekend, into the gorgeous Cotswolds for the culmination of Nicky’s determined training for this, her first middle distance (half Ironman) triathlon.
Training had been stalled by a calf injury (which also scuppered her 2 Oceans ambitions – read about that HERE). Having had some excellent therapy and trained hard and around the problem, she arrived at the Cotswold 113 in as good a shape as circumstances could possibly have allowed.
So, with our great friend Martin tucked safely in the back of the mini and their trusty steeds securely on the roof, we hit the road.
Glorious sunshine greeted us as we arrived for registration and the detailed race briefing on Saturday. There are a number of lakes at the race location and lots of great facilities for water sports enthusiasts, adrenaline junkies, kids and adults alike. There was a super friendly, slightly nervous buzz about the place as we enjoyed the warmth and sauntered around the registration area.
113 Events are a fabulous organisation. It would be easy to focus on the two ‘main’ guys from the organisers, and I will in fact do that, but every single one of the marshals, volunteers, police officers, water safety crew, motorcycle outriders, aid station teams and, of course, athletes, made this quite an incredible weekend.
So, the ‘main’ men – Graeme, the dry witted, unflappable, composer of emails, organiser and administrator of an extraordinarily personal registration process. Graeme actually suggested any of the thousand or so entrants that may be passing his door in the preceding week could call in to his house and register over a cuppa! He must keep a healthy stock of PG Tips.
Then there’s ‘loud’ Dave. Chief shouter of encouragement, instructions and banter. His booming voice echoing across the lake on Sunday morning as he stood waist deep in water hauling the swimmers up the steps is definitely one of my favourite memories.
The Saturday briefing was delivered twice and was invaluable for Nicky and Martin. Informative, informed, light-hearted, yet serious when it needed to be, those that managed to get there will have had their fears allayed and doubts answered. Graeme used a mic and P.A. speaker.
We decided to drive the bike course, a 28 mile loop (which would be ridden twice on race day), taking in the ‘hills’ which, living in Devon, didn’t present any fears for Nicky and Martin.
I’m acutely aware that I’m starting to get a bit ‘this happened, then this happened….’ soooooooo
I had Sunday morning all planned for my (spreading) stomach. All its ins and outs were to happen in a carefully planned and controlled manner. We’d met our friends Mac and Valerie who were due in the water at 6.10am, 10 minutes after the first wave which included my two eager athletes. With the swim start waves due to take an hour to get everybody in the water, I was going to use the lull in toilet queues to take care of the, er, ‘out’.
The ‘in’? A bacon and egg bap with my name on it which I would munch as I sauntered across to watch the swim exit.
It didn’t happen like that. We arrived lakeside about 4.30am to a thick mist. We couldn’t see the buoys and quite clearly there wasn’t going to be a 6am start.
By 6.30 my tummy’s ‘out’ had started to become urgent……… I simply had to join the increasingly nervous (and chilly) neoprene clad masses in the queue to poo.
The fog cleared and at 7.30 precisely the first wave took the plunge.
A lump in my throat, as pride, love, nerves and trepidation engulfed me. The woman I adore, the woman who inspires me, drives me and makes every moment precious, ploughed across the lake. Unperturbed by the mass of big strong guys crashing their twirling arms through the water, my petite heroine was getting stuck right in.
47 minutes later I watched her hold her ground as a couple of guys’ pincer movement failed to edge her out of the steps at swim exit. A big strong hoick from (loud) Dave and his fellow crew and off she padded towards her bike.
My day had started with a 3am alarm. Nicky got out of the water at 8.17 and I STILL hadn’t had my bacon and egg…….. Anyway, I was looking out for 4 people in the mass (880ish started) and Nicky, Martin and Ian (Mac) were all in transition together meaning I got a few piccies. And as they left, Val arrived. I safely watched them all out on to the bike course.
Then I had my bacon and egg…..
I figured I had about an hour and half before any of them would complete the first lap so I chose one of the many empty blue chairs around one of the food stalls and got my book out.
What am I reading? I hear you yawn. Well, I’m reading On Writing by Stephen King. Regular readers, in fact anybody that’s reading this seeing as I’m, er, writing it, might know I do enjoy scribbling a few words. I’ve had a rocky time with writing lately. I’d signed up to do a high profile brand’s ‘creative writing’ course only to find that their mission statements to be all about loving money rather than loving writing. So back it went.
I’ve since signed up for membership to Writers HQ. With their far more earthy approach and mottos such as “Stop f**cking about and start writing” and the simple “Write what you love” I reckon it was allllll meant to be.
Anyway, I’ve also been ploughing through Stephen King’s memoir of the craft.
“Excuse me is anyone sitting in this…?” (blue chair with no occupant.)
“No, I have no friends, take them all if you like”
Two cups of coffee a BACON AND EGG bap and a few chapters later I packed up my troubles in my old kit bag. Well, my book in my draw stringed bag anyway.
We had driven around the potentially difficult corner (a VERY sharp right turn) which ends lap one, quite a few times on Saturday. It is a VERY sharp corner and comes after 28 miles. Martin was struggling to understand the junction, so we went back AGAIN and walked him through it. Nope, he really didn’t see how it would work….
….. I chose this spot to watch the end of the first lap. Mac, flew through almost immediately, going really strong in his bright and easy to spot Torbay Tri racing kit.
I’ll take this opportunity to big-up 113 Events AGAIN! This potential pinch point on the course had had all the hedges and verges trimmed to increase visibility, there were massive signs specific to this junction, marshals on both sides of the approach yelling “sharp right turn”. A further marshal stood in the middle of the road, blocking the straight on option and another on the inside. All the gravel had been swept off the road.
I have, over the last 10 years entered dozens and dozens of running events, most of them incredibly well organised, but I honestly do not think I have attended such a ‘no stone unturned’, athlete centred event as this and its ‘SOLD OUT’ sign will appear even earlier next year as athletes’ word of mouth advertising spirals. I’ve heard that a high profile triathlon of similar distance taking place on the same weekend still had the ‘VACANCIES’ sign up.
I eagerly awaited Martin’s arrival…….
He waved enthusiastically and took the corner with ease.
Unlike about 20 or so guys who, heads down and focused, had to over run the corner and then turn back, most of whom took the cheers of the massed spectators in good humour.
As did the guy who tumbled over his bike as he entered transition at the end of his ride.
Mac and Martin safely negotiated themselves onto the run and then my excitement levels and bursting pride started reaching fever pitch as Nicky came steaming back into transition.
She calmly handed me her cycling top as she headed out for the first of her 3 run laps.
For the next 2 and a bit hours I charged around various points around the lakes and surrounding lanes to give as many cheers as I possibly could.
I was humbled by the sheer determination on show from everyone and with the competitors names printed on their numbers I was able to personalise my relentless encouragement.
Mac was fading the final lap, hardly surprising as he’d absolutely smashed the thing out of the park. Martin seemed knackered but in control and Valerie judged her efforts all the way to the finish.
As for Nicky……… As I’ve said many many times (and will say many many more times) she is a wonderful lady, a fabulous role model to all of us. Takes what she’s got, works as hard as she possibly can to turn that into the best version of herself through grit, determination, relentlessness and a refusal to accept that she “can’t”.
Three years ago Nicky was unable to swim 33 meters without pausing. On Sunday she completed 1.2 miles in the water and the total of 70.3 miles in under 7 hours and did so with a bounce and a sparkle and a smile.
The announcer yelled “… and from Paignton in Devon it’s NICKY BONFIELD…” as Nicky eschewed her normal self consciousness and threw her exhausted arms in the air.
I may have been a tad emotional……..