Sunday 1st June 2014
What’s the point?
I’m not even enjoying this!!!
These are the thoughts going through my head 5 hours into the Coniston Old Man Triathlon, and I’ve still got to run another hour before it’s all over……….
Better start at the beginning I suppose.
Swim 2km 31min 22sec 5th/54
The race started well, maybe a little too well…….
I positioned myself right at the front of the pack and took off hard when the starting horn sounded. I was in 1st place for a few strokes, then drifted in 2nd, then to 3rd. I instinctively made the decision to change course to jump onto the feet of the second placed guy, but was muscled out of the draft and pushed into 5th place. The five of us then formed an orderly queue for about 250m, when I realised I was struggling to get enough air into my lungs, and knew the pace was not sustainable. There was no other choice than to back off, and I slowly but surely lost touch with the front pack and reached the first turn buoy on my own about 20m back. I decided just to swim my own pace, sighting every 8 to 10 strokes (counting in my head all the time) and concentrate on swimming smooth with good technique. The new wetsuit thankfully kept me nice and warm (being cold during the swim is a problem I have struggled with for years) and I completed the first lap feeling calm and controlled.
The second lap felt a little harder than the first (as it usually does) but I kept focussed on what I was doing and tried not to think about any other than swimming straight and efficiently. Any thoughts of bike or run were immediately pushed out of my mind, bringing focus back to stroke count and technique whenever the mind wandered. I swam the whole second lap alone, obviously not as quick as if I had stayed on the feet of the leading group, but I was swimming within my capabilities and not red lining, which is a major no-no when a 6 hour race is still to be played out. I lost 3 minutes to lead group by the end of the swim, but dragging myself onto the shore in 5th place was a great early boost to my confidence, and I calmly sat down to put on socks and trainers for the 700m run up to T1.
Run + T1 7mins 31 seconds
The aim was not to rush or panic as I knew it was going to be a long day. A few extra seconds now would not make much difference to the final outcome, but forgetting something simple would! Steadily jogged up the hill to T1 making sure I didn’t get the heart rate too high, then it was wetsuit and trainers off, helmet, cycle shoes and sun glasses on, grabbed the bike and headed out. Simples!
Bike 70km 2hr58min 11th/54
Heading onto the bike course I felt warm for the first time ever after an open water swim. Bliss! I immediately got into a nice rhythm heading up the rise out of Coniston towards Skelwith, and was really looking forward to ride ahead. I knew the route was going to be tough, but the legs felt great early on, and the route was nothing that hasn’t been done in training most weekends over the last few months.
After 10 minutes however the triathlon gods decided to ‘test my metal’ so to speak. BANG! The rear inner tube exploded and blew a section of tyre off the rim for no apparent reason. As the race info stated ‘So like every Boy Scout be prepared’ – I quickly got my spares and tools out and got on with changing the tube, hoping the tyre hadn’t been subjected to any serious damage. Not carrying a C02 canister now came back to bite me, and it took more than few minutes with the world’s smallest mini-pump to get a reasonable amount of pressure back into the tyre. As in T1 I was again conscious not to rush or panic, getting the job done right first time and not having to stop again was the priority. A soft rear tyre descending Wrynose or Hardknott pass could have resulted in a very sudden end to the race!
After what seemed an eternity (in reality about 8 mins) I got moving again and started to work my way through the slower competitors who had sailed past whilst I was stationary on the side of the road. I was back into the groove once I hit the first real test up Wrynose Pass, and was working at near maximum effort on the steepest sections, and pleasingly passing plenty of riders, some who had already resulted to walking which is no shame on the 25% sections. Just as I neared the top a very large camera and crew caught my eye at the side of the road, and none other than Chris Boardman shouted over ‘well done, dig in!’ All I could manage in response was ‘Cheers Chris, you’re a legend’, and continued to grunt and grind my way over the summit.
The descent off Wrynose was relatively straight forward, dry roads and little traffic meaning I could push the pace all the way to the start of the Hardknott climb. Again I was working hard on the climb passing plenty of competitors, but never really in any trouble or feeling like I was killing myself too early. The highlight had to be brief conversation with fellow UTC’er Mike Volger, who decided to start reciting Shakespeare at the top of his voice, shouting something about a band of brothers, blood and battle of some sort! It definitely brought a smile to my face as I slowly pulled away, and it gave me a much needed boost to push over the top, feeling happy that the 2 major climbs were behind us!
Eskdale valley was a chance to get a gel and flapjack scoffed, and I was slightly embarrassed to witness an older bloke blatantly drafting off a strong female cyclist for a mile or two into the headwind. I decided not to try and sit a legal distance behind, and just upped the effort for a couple of minutes and left them behind. It wasn’t long before I was climbing the steady rise of Birker Fell, with the sun now making an appearance and temperatures steadily rising. I soon had company from the female from earlier, as she gasped and grunted her way past up the climb. I was happy to let her lead the way as I didn’t want to red-line at any stage, but soon was back in front on the descent down into the Duddon Valley.
The clip on aero bars came into their own from here on, as there were now plenty of flatter sections where it was head down, arse up and time trial as hard as I dared. I was still feeling strong heading over Grizebeck Hill, the last climb of any consequence, and it was great to get some verbal support from Coach Macca who was shouting encouragement at the top of the climb. I began to get a few twinges of cramp in the last few km’s of the ride, but was not too concerned as this didn’t slow me down, and usually the switch to running soon gets rid of the problem (just how wrong could I be…….but more on this later)
Run 20km 2hr32min 6th/54
After a quick transition which basically meant taking cycling shoes and helmet off, and putting trainers and bum bag on (containing mandatory kit of food, water, map, compass, waterproof) I was soon into a steady rhythm along the footpath into Coniston. It wasn’t long before the route starts to climb out of the village, and the legs started protesting and felt pretty heavy if I’m honest. The only positive I could come up with is that everyone else would be feeling the same, so got my head down and started working up the now steepening climb up to the peak of Wetherlam. The ascent was brutal in every way; steep, rocky, boggy, hot, humid – and by now the legs were cramping to the point I was having to stop and stretch to release the cramps every 5 or 10 minutes or so. Even munching on salt tabs didn’t seem to help, and having to ration the 500ml of fluid I was carrying won’t have help matters.
Even with the issues I was experiencing, I was obviously moving faster than those ahead of me, and gained a few places on other competitors before we reached the summit. Everyone was suffering by this point, and a few grunts and mumbled words of encouragement were all that were exchanged between us. Finally the checkpoint appeared at the cairn, and a green wrist band was the meagre reward for the monster climb we had just completed. Unfortunately we were not even half way, as the route quickly descended and rose again along Prison Band towards the next peak of Swirl Howe.
The terrain was particularly tricky underfoot here with loose rocks and boulders making up most of the path. Some sections even involved using hands for balancing such was the steepness of the terrain, but at this point I was concentrating on keeping the effort levels high, and making sure I was pushing as much as my lungs and legs would allow.
After reaching the top of swirl Howe, the route finally allowed for a section of actual running, as I made my way solo along the ridge line towards the summit of the Old Man. I even managed to lift my head and take in the awesome views on offer as I slowly made my way to the highest point on the course, at 803m.
The descent back down to Coniston was not pretty to say the least. Cramp was keeping me from taking large strides, so I was basically mincing and tip toeing down the loose rocky path. It was here that I had my lowest point of the race, and to be honest I had just had enough and didn’t care about the race, positions, time, pace etc. I just wanted to be done! I finally convinced myself the quickest way to get the suffering over and done with, was to go as hard and fast as I could till I either collapsed or reached the finish line.
Finally running back through Coniston I was back into some sort of reasonable rhythm, and other than the odd bout of cramp I was moving pretty quickly. Unfortunately 50m from the line I had a massive bout of cramp which had my right leg fully locked up and in spasm. I have never had cramp like that and don’t mind admitting I was screaming like a 4 year old girl! Losing a place at this point didn’t even bother me that much, as long as I got to the finish line the pain would subside, and I could finally stop moving after over 6 hours pushing as hard as I could.
The finish line was low key, a few claps from the sparse spectators, but to be honest just finishing was reward enough. Lying on the grass afterwards with a cup of cold water it finally sank in that I had just completed the hardest half distance race I had ever attempted, but the overriding thought in my head, as is usual straight after events like these, was ‘NEVER AGAIN!’
6hrs 10mins 7th overall 2nd Male Vet
Coffee, water, big bowl of porridge, full fat milk, honey, 1 x Electrolyte tabs
Banana – sipped cordial up to swim start
A few mouthfuls of Coniston water
2 x 750ml High5 energy drink
4 x High5 Isogel
2 x bite size flap jack
2 x Electrolyte tabs
1 x 500ml High5 energy drink
4 x High5 Isogel
2 x bite size flap jack
2 x Electrolyte tabs
Post Race 16:00
Lots of water, recovery drink provided by race
Chocolate Milk Shake