• Nikki Bartlett

Castle Howard: Tough day at the office. Learning to deal with racing 'flat' and a wrong turn


I decided to race Castle Howard middle distance after much positive feedback from athletes who have previously raced. Pre race: Post UK 70.3 I had a nice two week recovery period which I planned into the season, to recover from the brutally challenging course both mentally and physically. I didn't know how I was going to recover post race, so Castle Howard 6 weeks after made the perfect fit into the racing season. I recovered well after 7-8 days admittedly of rest and light training, i then slowly pushed the training on, where two weeks after the event I was hitting some good training volume. Then BAM. On a TT power set, a wasp or bee flew between my sunnies and stung me. I have always had reactions to bites, but this was on another scale. I felt rather sick, nauseous and half of my face blew up, eye closed and generally speaking I didn't feel great. In hindsight I should have gone to hospital straight away. This was my eye 5 days later. Moving on, I had the option of going into hospital on a drip for 48 hours, or strong antibiotics. I chose the latter and came off these 6 days before Castle Howard. Total of 10 days with a horrid golf ball eye and wanting to sleep 24/7! However when I was back training, I was lucky enough to take advantage of the best swim venue at the Cheltenham Lido. I'm always one to speak my mind, and write an honest blog. I'm not going to sit here and lie, and say I had the best day out. So here we go... Support team: As always, I had the best support team on race day; Grandparents, Parents, Brother, Bex, Marion and Graham (Bex's parents), Uncle Alan and Jill plus 2 crazy dogs. Without their support I honestly wouldn't have got through the day! Race day: Gearing up to the race post antibiotics was as hard mentally as it was physically. I felt okay to train, but on reflection, felt 'flat' in any intensity prep. Little did i know the side effects of antibiotics, and how this would in-pact on race day. I generally cannot remember the last time I was full on 'ill' enough to be put on antibiotics. Racing was a risk, but one which I thought to manage through the race. Race venue: Simply stunning, the swim was located down from the gorgeous Castle Howard, unfortunately a tad on the weedy side, but looked very pretty indeed. The hilly bike section displayed some of the true Yorkshire surroundings. A prefect location for an Olympic and Middle Distance event. Swim: The gun went, and effectively, I didn't. Instead this 'slug like' Nikki set off on a long day ahead. The swim was a little on the complicated side, or should I say, everything seems that little bit more complicated pre race! This was due to weed in the lake, which in fact was quite bad in places that it attached to your timing chip, goggles and actually made you come to a complete stop when you hit a big patch! Out of the swim, and up the big long hill climb to T2. Onto the bike and already way off the pace. Bike: The flat feeling continued, luckily not in relation to a flat wheel. Although I was looking at my wheels constantly, as I tried to justify no speed! This is where the negative inner thoughts really came to the centre of attention. Usually the bike section is by far my strongest, and usually make up for lost time in the swim. Not today, in fact I was losing time, something I hadn't experienced before, nor the support crew. Demoralising indeed and my thoughts kept reverting back to 'shall I pull out', 'what's the point in racing like this'? The bike section was quite hilly, not much descending and quite windy in sections. Well this was my view on race day, the hills were a challenge to get up, legs were burning from the first hill in fact! For those that know me, I actually go out cycling to find hills as I love them! I tried my absolute best to stay as positive as possible and at least get to T2, speak to Bex and make a decision on whether to pull out. The wrong turn run (just to top it off!): Into T2 in 4th position, 2.5mins off 3rd place. Whilst racking and putting on my shoes, collecting gels, I spoke to Bex and we agreed/had in mind to do the first lap of the run and see how I felt. Off I set onto the brutal run section. I honestly will put it out there, and say its on par with the UK 70.3 run section, in terms of difficulty. The whole run is off road, on farmer fields, tracks, and displays honest hard running. Very hilly and quite lonely in fact. Fantastic crowds were around the Castle, however, for about 6-7k of the lap (2 x lap course), you were on your own. The Olympic distance had a different route, so this part was just for the middle distance athletes. By 2k on the first lap I passed third place, and I felt okay, clocking some good minute miles, and heading for around 1.27-1.28 half marathon, which on that course with how I felt, I would have been ecstatic. I turned any negative thoughts into positives on the run, and tried to concentrate on the finer details such as technique and taking on nutrition. Then BAM another big error to this tough day at the office. Just as we climbed this MASSIVE hill to head onto the second lap I took the wrong turn, and in fact ended up, with looking at the post race splits via StuWeb and on my Garmin, this wrong turn cost me around 6-7 minutes. Frustrating, especially as I had to then re-run up the massive hill! I then came past my fabulous supporters at the end of the first lap. I honestly just wanted to stop, cry and have some big cuddles! Although I was a sweaty mess, so I'm not sure I would have had any takers! They egged me on to say 'only 1min off 3rd', which was so frustrating as I passed 3rd place within 2k of the first lap of the run! I could then either cry and pull out, or suck it up, I can't undo the past, and get my ass back into third place. I was on a little mission of my own, I kept fighting off my negative emotions and thoughts, and couldn't be more pleased to 1. finish and 2. regain 3rd place. Reflection: On reflection, I will put my hand on my heart and say, without the support from the crowds but mainly who came to watch me, I wouldn't have finished. So a massive thank you. A massive congrats to Hannah and Eleanor who came 1st and 2nd respectively. Great performances from them, I just wished I could have had a fun battle ;-)! To come out with 3rd place was a bonus. I guess now, if I have future 'flat' races, I know how to mentally deal with this, and how my body will feel and respond. In fact, I felt okay on the run, minus the wrong turn and I think I would have come away from the race quite satisfied. Great event, great organisation and I would highly recommend to all. I guess that's why I am sat here gutted, as I feel like I haven't raced, yet so exhausted from the day! However, I must admit, that all of this has certainly motivated me for the next race; Aberfeldy (under three weeks time). I will probably take a while to recover from this one, as I basically raced on an empty tank. But mentally, I'm raring to go! As always thanks to my amazing support team from family, friends and sponsors. Couldn't race without you :-) x


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