Monday 19 November 2018

Images from the Saltire Classic Rally 2018

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Becky's Laguna Phuket triathlon experience

As the dust settles on the excitement of the past few days, I can reflect on my experience of the Laguna Phuket Triathlon. "Wow" pretty much sums it up! 

From the time we arrived on Thursday night, the buzz of the event was already very evident. Once we'd built my bike back up, Friday and Saturday were spent getting ready-familiarising myself with the routes, trying to get used to the climate and attending the various briefings, bike check, race pack collection, and of course the pasta party! We also had Tim's run on the Saturday which was brilliant - what an atmosphere and Tim did brilliantly in the heat!

Sunday was Race day and an early start - we were up just after 3am,  both feeling strangely awake! We caught the bus to the start where it might as well have been midday with the noise, music, announcers getting the crowed revved up, and the thousands of people! I got my body marked up with my race number then set up my transition area. The only thing left then was to catch the boat to the start on the beach.

Once on the beach I got to watch the elites off the start. So cool!! As I watched each of the professionals being introduced, I thought - I was watching this very thing on the telly a few months ago, and now I'm here, stood right next to them and about to do the event myself as well!! OMG!!
Watching them all dive into the waves and onto the sea swim course that seemed to stretch for miles made me extra nervous, but also glad that my event skipped the sea part and went straight into the Lagoon, even if it was way too warm and murky!

The athletes doing the standard distance did their first 1300m in the sea and then did an "Australian Exit" where they come out of the sea, over the beach and straight into the lagoon for their final 500 meters. Some we spoke to afterwards complained about the  huge jelly fish in the sea with them and then the contrasting lagoon with its weeds and fish coupled with the feeling they were being sucked down with the heat of the fresh water vs the buoyant salt water of the sea.

The sprint however, just did the 500m across the lagoon. We were set off in waves of 5 people every 5 seconds meaning it wasn't such a fight to get a space in the water which I was grateful of given this was my first ever open water swim race. The result was I bashed into a few people (or they bashed into me....not sure which!) But otherwise I was in reasonably clear water. This was also a result of the fact I did not take the quickest line across the lagoon - I tried hard to stick with the buoys guiding us but I'm pretty sure my line was more like 2 sides of a triangle instead of the direct line. My watch didn't pick up the satellite until the last part so it didn't record my final swim distance, but a fellow competitor logged it as 674 meters which was significantly higher than the planned 500m, so I'm guessing I was around that distance, if not a chunk further!

As I reached the half way point, I started to feel the weeds underneath me! I'd been warned about these so did my best not to get caught up in them or get them in my mouth! I was pleased to get to the lagoon exit and hauled myself up the ramp and under the triathlon arch where there were showers to rinse us off. I must have looked happy to be out of the water as the commentator (named Whit) gave me a shout out for my smile so I gave the crowd a wave and a little dance as I ran into transition - determined to enjoy the experience!

Transition 1 went well and I jogged my bike out to the mount line which was a little chaotic as there were people who had mounted too early so were coasting up to the line, one that had fallen off, another struggling to get on their bike, but i found some space, jumped on and off I went with Tim shouting encouragement to push past some of the other slower riders who he'd seen go out steady just in front of me.

The bike course was great although very congested for the first 10k or so. This was a "no drafting" race so I had to ensure that there was 7m between me and the rider in front, and if i wanted to overtake and slot back in to a group of riders, I needed to find a 14m gap. This was practically impossible as I was amongst some of the standard distance back markers who were doing a 50k ride so taking it at a steadier pace. I did what I could to get past people without infringing the rules - the words of the race briefing echoing in my head saying no drafting and no crossing the middle line of the road, although sometimes I had to go wide to pass people.

The course was pretty technical, with some tight twisty turns, hilly sections and areas where the road had sunk to create big dips or in places, big holes! The big holes were well marked by the organisers though but I did ride with an element of caution as I didn't want to come off or get a puncture- this event was all about a solid finish for me. There was no way I was coming all this way to get a DNF!

About 11k in, the course involved a U-turn in a narrow road. I had recced this so had seen how tight it was and was a bit nervous about how I would tackle it. On the day, as we approached, I saw the rider in front of me un-clip one of his feet. Thinking that was a good idea, I did the same and I'm glad I did as the turn was too tight to ride round, especially with other riders all taking different lines, all at the same time. One rider had fallen attempting the turn so there was a marshal there helping them back on - plenty of hazards to try to avoid!

I managed to get round but it was a steep uphill section so hard to get going again from pretty much a standstill. I found my rhythm though and concentrated on making my way back up that long hill as quickly but efficiently as I could.  The rest of the course was more straight forward. We went through some beautiful scenery and wound our way through some of the back streets of Phuket where the locals live - trying to avoid random animals which were out on the road and seemingly unphased by all the cyclists whizzing around them!

As i went under the Laguna resort archway I knew I was close to the finish so started to prepare for my dismount. I pulled up just in front of the line but almost toppled over trying to get my leg over the bike - must do more practise at that! Its something to do with the fact my legs are still in forward peddling mode whilst balancing on a cleated shoe on the other leg I think! Anyway i managed to save myself and a marshal went to grab me too, so off I ran into transition with a bit of a giggle at the hash I'd made of my dismount!

Transition 2 went pretty well. I racked my bike and changed my shoes without any issues and jogged through the run exit, doing another little dance for my friend Whit, the announcer who had given me another shout-out, commenting on how much energy I had....although the reality was, I was feeling pretty tired!! I wasted some energy with my waving/dancing run, but again, I wanted to enjoy the whole experience and having fun with the crowds was all part of it!

So onto the run. Usually on a sprint triathlon run I wouldn't bother with the aid stations as its such a short run, slowing for drinks just knocks my run rhythm off. But a 6k run in Phuket is a whole different run! I took advantage of them all - and there were a lot of them! The was an aid station as we exited transition, and then one every kilometre. At each station there was a choice of water, sports drink or cola, plus a cool sponge to take with you. You really couldn't ask for more!

The run was tough as it was where I felt the intense humidity the most. I felt reasonably good for the first kilometer, then struggled in the second. I had a word with myself and told myself it was only 6k and just find your rhythm  and try to stick to it. By 3k I had settled and tried to stay around about a consistent pace and soak up the atmosphere. Then as I looped back towards the final kilometre or so, I saw a guy running towards me in a batman outfit!! What???? How on earth could he run in this heat in a full costume and mask?? If I'd have had time to stop and bow down at him, I would have, but I was racing so instead just gave him a high five and he squeaked his rubber chicken at me in return!! So random!

The final stretch was just about battling through to the finish. I didn't feel able to pick up my pace really so just concentrated on conserving enough to allow me to do my sprint finish, which I did and it felt utterly amazing finally crossing that finish line. I later thought I really should have slowed up for the finish and done an arms in the air kind of finish for the finish photo, but at the time, I just wanted to make up those final few seconds on my run time.

So there we have it! It's hard to believe it was only 1hr 22 minutes of racing, as re-living it now as I write this, it felt much longer, but the whole thing was just brilliant- I loved it!!

This event is totally awesome- when I'd got my breath back and Tim had stopped drenching me in iced water from the sponges they had ready for the finishers (which was soooo cold but soooo good!), I went into the athletes area where there was an array of amazing hot and cold food, drinks and an army of masseures waiting to give any athlete that wanted it, a 15 massage!! I took full advantage and boy it was painful, but much needed!

So that was the event done and dusted right? Nope not quite! Glossing over the fact that once we got back to our hotel about 2 hours later, I realised I was missing my trainers so we had to go back for them(!) - we then had the after party to look forward to. That evening was the cocktail party, buffet, awards ceremony and after party which was all being held at the beach club at our hotel (just a short walk home for us then!). The event was totally brilliant! Dinner tables set up on the sand, nightclub quality sound and lighting system, swimming pool and lots more! All the elite athletes were there too so we all got to mingle as equals. Whit the commentator was there as compare and he did not disappoint! He still had so much energy despite being on the go since 5am that morning. The awards came to a climax with a spectacular fireworks show over the beach - the only thing that tinged the night slightly was knowing i was only 47 seconds off winning one of those golden elephant trophies for 3rd place female in the sprint! Ah well....something to aim for next time??!

The whole event was seriously brilliant! It exceeded all my expectations which were already very high. I now know why its called The Race of Legends!!

I could not have done this without the amazing support of my wonderful hubby, Tim. He supports me to the N'th degree and encourages me every step along the way, I could not do any of this without him. Also our wonderful family who have rallied together to look after our children, Isaac and Darcy whilst we are away and who we have missed like crazy. And of course my coach, Dean at Real Fitness, and Allison and Gareth from We Can Run who not only introduced me to Triathlon but also helped me develop into the runner I am today (still my favourite discipline!). Thank you to you all!
Thank you for reading this!

Monday 9 July 2018

Images from the Welsh Hill Rally 2018

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Rowlands races to Welsh Hill Rally success

Paul Rowlands and co-driver Andrew Smith won the Welsh Hill Rally at Walters in South Wales after three days of tough competition.

The That’s Motorsport-organised event started on Friday evening with two short stages which, in a first for UK offroad motorsport, were live-streamed online.

It was Dan Lofthouse and Tony Coid who were quickest after Friday’s stages, holding a lead of four seconds over Peter Roberts and Anthony Brinkman with Ian Rochelle and Chris Hammond in third place in their Rivet. 

Saturday was the longest day of the event and it proved to be challenging for many crews. Despite suffering a puncture on the first stage of the day Lofthouse continued to lead. By the end of the day Steve Hiatt and Ian McMahon had moved up to second in their Warrior, 44 seconds behind Lofthouse with Roberts in third, 11 seconds back. In the extremely hot and dusty conditions several crews were experiencing problems including Rochelle who retired his Rivet, Brian Chase who had a shaft puncture a hole in his Freelander’s gearbox and Ken Powell who had engine problems on his KRS 206.

Both Hiatt and Roberts did not start day three which promoted Paul Rowlands into second in his Can-Am X3 and Ian Gregg and Adam Evans into third in their Polaris RZR. Lofthouse’s day got off to a bad start with a throttle issue causing him to lose over two minutes and the lead of the event to Rowlands. Things were to get worse with a fire in his car on the final stage which forced him into retirement. Rowlands maintained his pace to take the win by 34 seconds from Gregg. With Lofthouse retiring ex-stage rally driver James Ford finished third in his QT Wildcat.

“It was a tricky weekend,” said Rowlands. “We had some problems with punctures so it was a case of looking after the car and driving steadily to get to the finish.”

Gregg commented: “I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend, it was a great event and I’ve loved every minute.”

Ford, who was using the event as a test for Baja Spain event, said: “It’s my first event of this type, I found some sections quite rough compared to what I’ve been used to in stage rallying. Other than an overheating problem the car was reliable, it’s been a good weekend”.

In fourth place, and winning their class, were Toby and Will Jefferson in their GSR 206. Robert Patton and William Bones completed the top five in their Land Rover Defender.

Further down the leaderboard there were several tales of battling the odds to get to the finish. The Insanity Racing crew of Jon Damrel and Nick Blundell had issues with their car in the days before the event so were pleased just to make the start. The event wasn’t any easier than the preparations though, fuelling issues caused them to stop in stage two and then they had an engine which was overheating and blowing blue smoke for the rest of the event. They made it to the finish though, ending up in 20th place.

Former Freelander Challenge crew Michael Wilson and Ian Letman finished in 31st after a troubled day on Saturday when they had snapped engine mounting bolts which smashed a hole in the timing belt cover, bringing off the belt. However, with assistance from the teams of competitors Mark Jacques and Phill Bayliss, they were able to get the Freelander back up and running to complete the event.

The event was the first round of the two-event Hill Rally Championship. The second round will be the Borders Hill Rally at Forrest Estate in South West Scotland which will take place  in November.

Top ten:

1. Paul Rowlands/Andrew Smith (Can Am X3) 01:19:10
2. Ian Gregg/Adam Evans (Polaris RZR) 01:19:44
3. James Ford/Paul Chambers (QT Wildcat) 01:24:54
4. Toby Jefferson/Will Jefferson (GSR 206) 01:27:39
5. Robert Patton/William Bones (Land Rover Defender) 01:31:09
6. Jason Rowlands/Matthew Hall (Can Am X3) 01:31:20
7. George Bryson/Wallace McKay (Kirkland Proto) 01:32:05
8. Chris Bowler/David Bowler (Land Rover Ultra) 01:32:33
9. Alec Fern/Matthew Booth (3M Challenger) 01:32:39
10. Simon Crowe/Karl Johnstone (Polaris RZR) 01:32:40

Sunday 1 July 2018

Near capacity entry set for Welsh Hill Rally

The Welsh Hill Rally will take place next weekend at the Walters venue near Glynneath in South Wales. The That’s Motorsport-organised event has attracted a near capacity entry and the crews will face 18 tough stages totalling 107 miles in the Walters complex.

The opening two stages will be on Friday evening with the Production-spec cars running first on the road followed by the UTVs and Prototype cars. Former BCCC Trophy champion Phill Bayliss will lead the cars away in his Land Rover 90 TD5 ahead of Justin Birchall who, instead of his usual Lofthouse Freelander, will be driving an Isuzu D-Max, a car which was last seen in the BCCC. The Production entries also include Belgian driver Frank Blondeel in a Mitsubishi Pajero and former Freelander Challenge crews Michael Wilson and Brian Chase.

The UTV entries are headed by Paul Rowlands in his Can Am X3 RS who will be followed by Ian Gregg’s Polaris RZR. Another Can Am X3, driven by Jason Rowlands, will be third UTV off the line ahead of Becca Clarkson who has been racing her Polaris RZR in the NORC championship this year.

Mark Jacques, who finished third in the BCCC last season, will be the first of the Prototype cars away. Jacques will be using his Lofthouse LS3 and he will be followed by several former offroad racing champions including AWDC winner Stephen Hiatt (Warrior Indy) and BCCC winners Dan Lofthouse (Lofthouse Evo) and Ian Rochelle (Rivet). Also among the Prototype entries are Andy Powell, who’ll be in his new Caze Peugeot 306, Toby Jefferson in his GSR 206, Andy Skelley in his ex-Dan Evans Milner R5 and Henri Joosten in his Mitsubishi PX33.

Clerk of the Course Jon Aston commented: “I’m delighted that the event has attracted a good quantity and quality of entries, there are some very quick drivers and cars competing. The stages should present a good challenge to the crews with over 100 miles of competition. I’d like to thank all our sponsors whose support has been vital in helping That’s Motorsport put on the event and I’d also like to thank the 150 volunteer officials and marshals without whom we couldn’t run. Hopefully we will have a fantastic weekend of motorsport.”

The action starts at 5pm on Friday and the cars will be reseeded based on the results ready for the ten stages on Saturday which will commence at 10am. There will be six more stages on Sunday with the final one scheduled to start just before 2pm.

For more information please visit, the event can also be followed on social media using #WelshHillRally.