HERCULES FESTIVAL OF SPORT SPRINT TRIATHLON – 13th SEPTEMBER 2015 – GUIDING ALISON MEAD

Could you imagine swimming 400m in a pool you had never set foot in before, then jumping on the back of a tandem with someone who has little experience and hitting busy roads for 13 hilly miles and then wrapping that little lot up with a 5k hilly off road trail run on uneven ground, all the while being blindfolded?!

Let me introduce you to Alison Mead a 53 year old tough cookie that has a B1 Classification from British Blind Sport having lost her sight in 2005.

I was introduced to Alison by the British Triathlon Federation in July last year. Alison was keen to get involved in triathlon again having participated in a race a couple of years before. Alison needed to find a guide that could help her achieve her dream of racing again and I was hoping to be that person.

We started off by run/walking along the Ebury Way, a fantastic trail not far from her house in Oxhey. After doing this a couple of times I suggested we might try going to a local Park Run as it had the feel of more of an event than running on our own. We decided to go to St Albans Park Run on a chilly morning in November 2014. We might have been the last people to finish but it didn’t matter the support and encouragement from other racers and park users was fantastic and we left on a real high.

A short while later Park Run started up near Alison’s house and Ted, her gorgeous guide dog, learnt how to bring her there in spite of the fact that some of the walk is off road. I would run here with Alison whenever I could but logistically committing to training every week was difficult to fit into my already busy schedule. Soon other people offered to guide Alison and within no time she had a guide every week! A lovely lady called Lesley Keddy, has now set up a rota so Alison has a guide most weeks and if she doesn’t she kindly helps marshalling. Fullerlife Leisure based at Watford Grammar School for Girls have supported us in using their pool for swim training. Cycling was a steep learning curve as I had never ridden a tandem before. Alison has her own tandem that I initially took to the Ebury Way Trail with a friend who was experienced in riding a tandem. Alison and I then ventured out on the trail and once we were competent we ventured off to Moor Park on the roads the week before race day. The tandem is a definite learning curve! Once its up and moving it is fine but setting off requires balance and concentration!

Race Day was soon upon us and with some invaluable help from Kay Tang, Cycledude in transporting the tandem at an ungodly hour of the morning we found ourselves outside Westminster Lodge in St Albans at 5:45 am.



Hercules Events, the race organisers had been so accommodating and helpful and Alison was given race No.1! We had our own special briefing from David the Race Director at 6:40 am and then were allowed to start our swim whilst the main group then had their briefing.

I could hear their amazing cheers of support from all the other race entrants whilst David explained what we were up to. We had 16 lengths to swim, ducking under the lane ropes at each end of the pool.  
When we first started swimming together Alison was really only confident swimming alongside the wall but we soon learnt how to manage against the lane ropes by swimming in a busy public pool on a bank holiday weekend!

In a little over 11 minutes we were out the pool and had a fairly long run to transition just as dawn was breaking.

   We organized ourselves fairly quickly and managed to get the tandem off the rack and had another long run to the mount line. Alison is amazing in being able to run just holding the bike to guide her.


 Mounting the tandem and getting it going was the only bit of the whole race that I was nervous about and thankfully we managed on the first attempt!


The ride was a little hilly but it was only towards the halfway point that some of the faster entrants came by us. We had been hoping for a minimum average speed of around 12 mph so our 15.5 mph average was a brilliant boost and Alison clearly loved the descents and feeling the wind in her hair as we exceeded speeds of 32 mph. We found ourselves back in the park in no time at all. We had to slow up for the half mile or so through the park to the dismount line as by now the narrow footpath we were riding on was busy with other runners and cyclists.


We dismounted successfully and then had to negotiate a windy transition with a very long bike. Mission accomplished and we were soon heading out onto the run.

  
 The run really took some guts. It was predominantly off road on hilly, uneven ground. We knew the first part around the lake as it is the same as Park Run St Albans but then we ventured up and down several hills on tricky terrain. Alison experienced a severe cramp in her hamstring so unfortunately although we were looking set for a 5k PB all of a sudden she was brought to a grinding halt and we had to spend several minutes stretching out and massaging her hamstring. In spite of a couple of stints of this we still managed a decent time and as we rounded the final bend with 200m to go we could hear the race commentator announcing her imminent arrival. At this point a third bout of severe cramp set in but Alison battled it out to run across the finish line as its inflated structure actually started to collapse just as we crossed under it!

  
I have to say that this was simply the most fun I have ever had at a sprint triathlon! Alison is just so gutsy! Her swim was strong, we beasted the tandem ride (and didn’t fall off!) and her run on that hilly, off-road, uneven ground battling with severe cramp in her leg was outstanding.

Alison had a few objectives – to finish, enjoy it and hoped to beat a previous race time from a couple of years ago. She managed all three even though this event was longer than the last one!

None of this would have been possible without the help of many people. We would both like to pass our thanks to the following:

Carol Macdonald at Triathlon England for putting us in touch with each other.

Hercules Events for being so accommodating and helpful.

Lesley Keddy from South Oxhey Park Run, the other guide runners and of course Park Run itself which was an essential part of the training preparation for this event.

Kay Tan, Cycle Dude the mobile bike mechanic for transporting the tandem in the middle of the night.

Fullerlife for supporting us with training at their pool.

The roar and support of those waiting to race after us.

Lesley & Nick, Ted’s original boarders who looked after Ted for 24 hours

Ted himself who is of course invaluable and he also played a major role in getting Alison to Park Run

Alison High a friend and regular guide at Park Run, Alan & Sandra & other friends that came to support.

Must not forget Martin, official paparazzi for also getting out of bed in the middle of the night!

All the awesome tweeters and facebookers!

Then of course there are my sponsors:

Giant Radlett, for keeping me on some beautiful wheels and providing never-ending support

Simon Costain at The Gait & Posture Centre for literally keeping me on my feet!

Since the event we have even been featured in the media with both The Mirror and Join In Uk writing some lovely articles. If you are interested you can take a look here:

The Mirror article

Join In UK article

We are also delighted to have been invited to attend British Blind Sports 40th Anniversary Gala Dinner next month.

If perhaps you would like to to consider guiding please take a look at Join In UK and/or Guide Running UK for more information. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

Alison – you are a inspiration and should be very, very proud of yourself!  I’m now hunting out a new challenge for us!

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7 Responses to “HERCULES FESTIVAL OF SPORT SPRINT TRIATHLON – 13th SEPTEMBER 2015 – GUIDING ALISON MEAD”

  1. Tom Gilboy Says:

    Inspirational stuff! What a fantastic thing to do. My smile is so wide from having read this report the others in my office are giving me weird looks.

  2. kevs321 Says:

    Great Brilliant amazing you are a great team + TED

  3. Lesley Keddy Says:

    Roz you make such a difference to Alison’s life. This is wonderful and I loved reading your blog. Lesley x

  4. Chalky Says:

    Good on you Roz and well done Allison – you deserve that race number!

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