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The Virgin 70.3 Diaries: Debbie's account of her first Middle Distance Triathlon at Holkham Hall

For those of you not in the know, a Middle Distance Triathlon involves a total of 70.3 miles under your own steam... a 1.2 mile open water swim, 56 miles on the bike and a 13.1 mile run!

On 2nd July 2017 Debbie, a seasoned triathlete and cyclist, ventured to the depths of East Anglia to take on her first Middle Distance Triathlon at Holkham Hall in Norfolk. It was a rather eventful day to say the least...

Unfortunately, my race did not go according to plan!


Racking and registration was scheduled for Saturday afternoon so we allowed for at least a 4 hour journey time which should have only taken 2 but we hit major traffic issues on the M11 which meant it was one manic rush to get to the last briefing. We made it ..... just!

Race day

Firstly my day started without coffee or breakfast - as they say PPPP (poor preparation = poor performance). Paul's wave was at 7:00am so we got him all set up, wished him luck and sent him on his merry way. I had no doubt in my mind he was going to be ok in the swim. He has come on a long way in the past couple of months due to his sheer determination.

The Swim 7:30am a wave of 250 ladies set off. I have no idea why the organiser put the ladies as the last wave? You're probably wondering, 'why would that make a difference'? Well it wasn't long before I caught up to the slower swimmers from the previous wave which means you have to swim around breaststroke swimmers and it actually is hard work. But I completed the swim in 30 minutes so I was happy with that. All swim times were slower than expected and it would seem to have been a long course.

T1 and the Bike Leg

Out on the bike. My cycling shoes are already on my bike with elastic bands keeping them in place so the idea is you jump on your bike, slip your feet in and off you go.......well when the elastics break whilst running your bike that becomes a drama. For the life of me I could not slip my right foot into the shoe. So off my bike unclip the shoes, put shoes on and jump back on the bike and off I go.

Not happy that a couple ladies went passed me whilst I was faffing around with my shoes so I worked hard to catch them up. Norfolk actually does have hills! Oh my I realised this was indeed going to be a tough day out in the saddle. 8 or so miles into the ride I had the misfortune of a slower rider not holding his line, I'm on my aerobars, he literally cuts in front of me and brakes. Unfortunately, being the last wave you have a very busy bike course and a lot of inexperienced cyclists around you. Anyway, yup you guessed it, I go flying over my handlebars. Totally winded and plenty of body damage. I was told to wait for the ambulance and that my race was over as I was struggling to breathe. What???? No, no, no, is my bike ok? Yes, looks ok but aero water bottle holder broken on the side and liquid gone. That's ok. I get my shaky butt back on the bike with blood pouring out of my right and left elbow, my left knee and top of my thighs really sore. Oh the pain. I just pushed on. Soon realised I had done damage to my right calf. Just ignore. Stopped at both food stations for liquid. It was hot. Coming back into Holkham the path becomes very narrow and unfortunately you cannot pass which can be very frustrating, especially if one of the cyclists up ahead is sitting up and cheering for her fellow mates running alongside the cycle lane and you just have to sit back and wait. Finished the 56.7 miles in 2:47 - oh dear. Jumped off my bike, couldn't run into transition. Calf in so much pain. Hobbled over to my running shoes. Put them on and just told myself get out there and do it. Just run and stop being a whinge! Paul had spent a lot of money buying this Christmas gift for me so I had better do him proud and at least finish this darn thing.

The Run Leg

The run was not pleasant – a 3-lap hilly course, but as I kept going the calf started to ease up a bit. I was good to go but my body was not having it. I just plodded around. Paul passed me on his second lap and we had a brief chat regarding what had happened. I had already told him not to run with me if he caught me so off he went slowly like a sloth!! I can honestly say I ran on long ago memories of when I used to be able to run long distance. The only thing that kept me going were the feed stations. I started to play mind games with myself. If I could run from one feed station to the next I could stop at each feed station, drink a high five, water, coke and two sponges and that is exactly how I managed to get round those brutal 21kms. Somehow I managed a 1:48. Highlight of the day? The feed stations had glorious coke!!!!

And somehow through all of that I got 3rd in age group. Go figure! Think Paul was more disappointed than me. 5:04 won my age group and on recent form Paul expected me to finish at least 5 minutes ahead of his 4:59.

Paul was waiting at the finish line for me and made me go straight into the medical tent, where I was cleaned up and had imbedded stones removed from my elbow. A doctor confirmed my diagnosis that nothing was broken. The rest of the afternoon was spent with ice packs on my calf, whilst Paul did an impression of a cart horse making numerous trips to and from the car and ensuring I had drink and food. Have absolutely no idea what I would have done if I had been on my own?!

Lessons learned

1. Be more organised regarding food before a big event.

2. Ensure you have strong elastic ties on your shoes

3. Always fill in your medical information on the back of your race number

4. Know your own body and take a moment to reflect, listen to the marshalls and consider their advice, but make your own decisions going forward

5. Brick training sessions are an imperative

6. Enjoy the feed stations and treat them as motivation

7. Always have a spare bottle on your frame as well as an aero bottle for longer events

8. Nothing is impossible

The event in itself is incredibly well organised and the support was amazing. The grounds are stunning and deer graze on the long grass.

Would I recommend this event to fellow members? Hell yeah. I'll be back next year to settle some unfinished business!

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