Lessons learned

The 2018 Norfolk superhero challenge 

It was hot last year.  Hot, sweaty and faintly delirious.  Having failed to win the wooden spoon, at the height of the 2017 Norfolk superhero post-race endorphin rush, we made a pact to do it all again: properly.  Lessons would have to be learned.  

Would an even larger breakfast help?  Was wheezing in a wetsuit a wise idea? Could the superhobbit have some leg extensions so the kayak could be carried? Could the super-bad multitasker’s knee-creak be resolved on a different bike?  Would barefoot running enable actual running??

Are rain dances effective?

singin in the rain
singing in the rain

Would we actually do some training?………


The superhobbit was committed (to training – not an institution….)  There was a progression plan.  February – half marathon, April – duathlon, May – Olympic triathlon, June – superhero.  In theory, we should have won!  In practice, she broke wonder woman on the half marathon, broke herself in the duathlon (ITB) got broken by the “Kent Himalayas” in the tonbridge tri and realised “beating yesterday” is really tricky when you’re older, fatter & slower than yesterday…

wonderwoman is broken
wonderwoman – broken but still smiling!
i like to ride my bicycle
i like to ride my bicycle
broken hobbit
broken hobbit with horse boy

The multitasker had multiple tasks, none of which included directly training for superhero. Luckily, she’s naturally fit and “bossed” her accelerated training plan with only minimal moaning about the creaky knee & how hard it was….

And suddenly it was June 15th.  The superhero car park was full of people furiously pumping up their bike tyres, registration was full of very kindly pink ladies who agreed a “large” t-shirt was wise “because they come up small”.  The superhobbit mused on how Saga Noren might have said “well, you would have fitted into the small t-shirt if you’d eaten less pie.”

just eat less pie
just eat less pie


Not for the last time, grateful to pink ladies.  Outside, people were kayak mangling.  There was jockeying for position and the usual dilemma about which end of the paddle might be which.  Backrests were being inexpertly fitted for no apparent reason other than to prove your zimmer credentials.

Humblebragging – the sanity salvage of the woefully unprepared – was in the air.  A slight and gorgeous brunette was being harangued by a gnarly iron veteran about not wearing her wetsuit.  This was clearly insane and only for the “nails” among us. Little did he know, she normally swims the serpentine all year round with no wetsuit being attacked by giant parasitic leg sucking snails. (Not exaggerating!)

swimmers itch

Eventually, the safety briefing was had, last rites read (ok, I’m exaggerating slightly….) the last supper was eaten and a poor night’s sleep had by all.

1 – breakfast

05.15 – tea

05.45 – other superheroes happily eating breakfast – but not hungry

06.00 – superhero HQ – tagged, tattooed, assembled.  Pink swim hats for “may need assistance” collected.

06.30 tea.  The multitasker feels sick & claims she hates exercise.

Still not hungry

06.45 boat ride (best bit of the day) – also – didn’t fall in, although we heard “the legend of the capsize”….

07.00 we haven’t had breakfast 😱.  Reframe this epic fail by reminding selves there is lots of evidence that fasted exercise is good for you (?)

breakfast fail

2 – swim – 37 minute mile

It was a tad chilly on gun hill.  However, we all felt warmer at the sight of the “budgie smuggler” – a man so iron he was out there clad only in the weeniest speedos.  (No photo here, out of respect).  No wetsuit for the superhobbit but serpentine-girl had succumbed to the nagging and looked toasty and happy in hers.

The water was warm!  The 4 breaststrokers pottered along nattering happily.  The multitasker was so comfortable this year she took time to swap out her safety consort for a younger beefier model.

What a glorious thing to be doing !  How smug we were with our early rising, open water swimming selves.

early bird gets worm
early bird gets worm, feels smug

How pride comes before a fall.  

There was no walking involved in the swim leg this year.  This meant, by halfway, the hobbit was a bit puffed from talking the multitasker down from potential panic and certain doom.  A little rest with the “mature” safety kayaker who had so far refrained from any words of advice, but couldn’t help agreeing that the hobbit might do a bit better if she stopped talking.

The multitasker suddenly turned into “Major Hardman”.  Faced with the potential demise of her littlest & most troublesome squaddie, she forgot all the sharks and sea monsters making a beeline for her flailing limbs and steered a course for home.  

It took a long time.  The water felt less warm.  Blood supply was shut off to expendable items – toes feel like they have a ring of steel around them.  Hands are numb.  Blue goggles hamper colour vision so that steering by coloured buoys is only approximate.

The hitchhikers’ guide to the galaxy has this to say:

“Small animals like mice and hobbits (not illustrated) have a large surface area compared to their volume. They lose heat to their surroundings very quickly and must eat a lot of food to replace the energy lost.”

surface area to volume ratio

OMG!  No breakfast fail!  The superhobbit was getting hypothermic – but at least she now had scientific proof that two breakfasts are definitely in order.

Eventually, the end was in sight and FINALLY the much promised helpful current swept us in.  Paramedic blanket most welcome (thank you!) & Major Hardman was commandeering troops to carry the kayak (thank you!) on behalf of the hypothermic and vertically challenged hobbit.

3 – kayak – 13.6 minute mile average

The kayak leg is by far the best bit.  Being last, we got the added benefit of a tutorial from the safety kayaker (push as well as pull!)  The bonus of the high tide was appreciated by less mud sliding and only a quick up and over the marsh and then we were back in the melee as the lemmingry of male kayakers swooped past us from their extra dog leg.

Joyfully, we saw a seal.  It gave a weary “Seen it all, now” kind of a look and sank back to pursue some fish.

world weary seal

Major Hardman retired and the multitasker was back in the boat, this time for a quick game of speed dating on the water.  It took our minds off tired arms and abs. Some boys refused to play, far too singlemindedly pursuing Lord Nelson’s bust.  (titter ye not) 


We negotiated the wooden posts, press-ganged another victim into kayak carrying (& he didn’t even get rum! Thank you!) and we were done.

4 – bike – 4.6 minute mile average

There was a naked man in transition- or maybe hypothermia causes hallucinations……

The superhobbit was shivering so uncontrollably transition took longer than it should have.  Gotta love a sport that includes a “getting dressed” phase, with rules!  The first five miles on the bike were intolerably slow as the defrost kicked in.  Not as slow as those who already picked up punctures.  Always a tragedy to see fine bikes and men standing agonised by the wayside, waiting for a puncture repair kit……  

superheroes with a puncture

The first lot of pink ladies proffering bananas were a sight for sore eyes and the bike leg was cooler, faster and hugely more enjoyable with a better bike we borrowed (Thank you!) for the multitasker.

When themultitasker morphed into “Major Hardman”, the superhobbit simply obeyed the frequent orders to drink more water.  Consequences ensued.  It wasn’t as hot as last year.  Once thawed out, the hobbitly renal function proved outstanding.  We may not have won the Lady Hamilton cup but there was a Guinness world record pee stop (just after passing the queen’s estate ……. gotta respect Ma’am).  There was a curious man in a van nearby who only moved on afterwards so if my arse has ended up on YouTube please forward only to Norris McWhirter……

The cattle grids: 

We had a race plan in advance

1 – hobbit talk to multitasker on swim

2 – phone a friend on the kayak leg for porterage

3a take every banana & water opportunity offered by a pink lady (as an excuse to have a stop & a natter)

3b hope for an (minor) accident early in the bike leg so the multitasker can do first aid and have a good excuse for not finishing. Failing that, get off and walk over the cattle grids (if reached)  

4 – walk on the “run” anytime anyone’s wrist monitor heart rate exceeds 180

(I’m sure your race plan was similar….?? #hopeful face)

race plan

Well, we were doing fine!   Without the burden of 3 litres of urine on board the bike average mph rocketed.  We were approaching cattle grid number one.  There was a man down.  We got off and walked.  He already had assistance but I volunteered the multitasker as being a doctor anyway.  Forgot to mention the small matter of my own MBChB……luckily, he had a “doctor who looked like he knew what he was doing” with him, so I pottered off with a clear conscience.

After the obelisk, the multitasker hoped it was nearly over, and it nearly was!  Had a lovely lovely bike ride this year – have learned that taking in a “rolling buffet” may not make you go that much faster but you definitely enjoy it more.

5 – “run” – 16.6 minute mile average

A speedy transition this time and off on the “run”, smiling through gritted teeth at all those cool cucumbers with superhero medals already strung round their necks.

We managed some running and I ditched the shoes with the first pink ladies (thank you!) for a true hobbit quest.  This surprised all the hard-bitten speedy superheroes passing us in the other direction- what did they know that I’d forgotten from last year!?  Oh yes, the stony path….

Luckily serpentine-girl and her sidekick were there to help us along and I think the multitasker necked some rum (& after that had a curious loss of pace….)

We had a short episode of “woman versus horse” on the beach, which we won, and then we were trotting back along the beach marvelling at our luck being out under the huge sky on a huge beach with 3/4 of a huge task behind us.


And then we reached the marsh.  The mud is really nice on bare feet, but it was a bit slippy and slow and people overtook us. There were some more stones and an offer of a piggyback declined on account of not (this year) having lost all dignity….

Then the crevasses.  Who put those extra ones there!?  Did the multitasker tread on last year’s lost trainers?

But we could hear the drums beating and see the family waving.  A splosh across the creek, up the slippery slope over the timing mat and done!!!

A very kindly race organiser wisely held the superhobbit up for a bit having identified collapse-potential a mile off!  Then medals, photos and coconut water and best of all – husband bearing chocolate milk!!!

shiny medals

No wooden spoon for us!  We live to race another day!

You can still sponsor us, too 🙂

6 – recovery

Pint of beer, 2 hour drive and a wedding for the multitasker.  

Delayed 1st & 2nd breakfast and a nice nap for the hobbit.  Each unto his own.

“alt.” recovery for the frayed nerves of the spectators:

alternative superhero
alternative superhero

And we’ve agreed: next year we’re giving something back – please can we be pink ladies?

Thank you (again and again and again) one and all involved, we couldn’t have had a nicer time.

Lessons learned:

Breakfast is optional (heretic but true)

Hypothermia is better than wheezing, but slows you down 

There is no shame in playing on a height disadvantage 

Expensive bikes hurt less and go faster (sad but true)

Barefoot running only works on sand……

Your race reflects your training.  But allow for the unexpected gargantuan pee stop……

Until next year……

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A tiny hobbit dedicated to saving the world with a decent second breakfast. Also, available to make you feel good in triathlon when you overtake her.......

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