GREG BARTLETT – IRONMAN UK 2014
It all started about a year ago when Ian returned triumphant from Ironman UK 2013, together with the unmistakable m-dot calf tattoo. It didn’t take long for me to get more inquisitive about this Ironman thing, so I pre-registered for a place – which basically meant I got an email out of the blue one day back in October saying I had better be quick as there were only 50 places left- i-phone in hand on the top of Birkrigg trying to get a signal, and credit card in the other, and I was a few minutes later an aspirant ironman with a place in Ironman UK 2014 – a slight pang of guilt followed for not discussing it with Naomi first (she’s forgiven me – I think!).
The lead into Christmas and the new year was spent riding the wave of excitement and putting together a plan to start training in earnest on 1st Jan – yeah right, as if – I think it was the 10th I actually did start!
7 months later, and after hours, weeks and months of training, doing something in each discipline every week, longer runs and rides at weekends, and having the awesome UTC as a focal point for my training and support, the week had arrived – heading off to Bolton on the Friday morning, meeting Paul bizarrely parking right behind me at the Macron stadium (having followed me all the way but I was already too focused that I didn’t see him!). It dawned on us that it was getting rather warm already and it wasn’t even the weekend yet! It all pointed to a being a hot race day (you’ll see later that we were not short changed on this front!).
Together we went to the main hub of the registration marquee, which was also the Ironman shop, where I spent a few subsequent hours over the next two days spending a few quid! – compulsory hoodie, t-shirts for the kids and making sure I didn’t wear any of it until I had actually finished in fear of “ the kiss of death!”
Registration complete, sporting our new swanky (and they are) ironman branded sports bags full of race numbers, number tattoos, swim hat, transition bags etc.… and goodies, we headed off to a practise session at Pennington Flash – the swim venue. This proved very useful and I recommend it to anyone doing the IM to see it beforehand – it helps get over the initial nerves of a new venue, and to overcome the stench of goose shit at the get in pontoon! It also gave us a taste of the pomp and ceremony that was to accompany race day – banners, branding, cameras etc.…We headed for our digs for the next few days and nights, and out for a relaxed supper, feeling excited and a tad submissive to the scale of what we were about to undertake!
Saturday marks the Ironkids event in the morning, which Ian and Paul and families took part in – it was chucking it down with rain at this point, making it a nice wet event for the kids – since Naomi and my kids were not arriving until Sunday during the race, I had the benefit of a lie in, leisurely breakfast and relaxed morning, until meeting Paul again for the logistical crux of getting our kit to both T1 and T2 for tomorrow.
An early (ish) night was in store after meeting Ian and Francis, and Paul for a pasta tea, together with half of the Ironman village of athletes – we were by now unmistakable with various branded clothing, compulsory wrist numbered wrist bands from registration, and the occasional person who had already put their number tattoos on – I saved that task for later that evening, wondering if I would wake up with it on my forehead by accident!
I didn’t get a lot of sleep that night – 1 hour to be exact – but I managed to stomach breakfast at 3.30am surprisingly well, and headed out into the misty and drizzly fresh air to catch the shuttle bus with Paul – we sat at the front of the top deck like two excited school kids.
T1 was a mass of yellow bike covers, spotlights, 2000 excited/anxious/scared athletes (we are repeatedly referred to as athletes throughout the day – felt more like a prisoner with my numbers on each arm, and behind the barriers of T1!). Start gun was an hour away, and all that was left to do now was don the wetsuit, check the bike and add my bottles to it, and find a subtle bush – the queue for portaloos was bigger than the queue to get in the water!
I managed to see Ian and Lee too before starting the swim to wish everyone luck and then it was time to get on the pontoon, into the water, and warm up swim to the start buoys – trying to jostle for position towards the bottom right hand end to avoid the chaos in the middle, and allow myself a longer lead into the buoy with clear water to my right – nice plan – badly executed as the gun went off, and I found myself suddenly in the middle of a washing machine with fists and feet – I got kicked and swum over numerous times before the first sighting buoy – and that was only 200m done! It was going to be a long and brutal swim. Hanging on in there and managing to find a space, I settled into a rhythm and got round the first loop relatively unscathed from then on. Exciting the pontoon and running round for lap 2 seemed weird, but actually felt great, and none of the wobbles I normally get! The crowd lining the pontoon helps! Lap 2 went well, but slower, deciding not to push hard at tis point, saving that for later on the bike/run. I got out in 1hr 35mins – by no means last, but still greeted by the empty feel to T1 bike racks – at least it makes your bike easier to spot when its one of the only ones left!
T1 went steady, again, wanting to avoid any post swim dizziness – 8mins later I was heading out the T1 chute, supporters cheering, and off onto the closed roads of Leigh heading for Arlington and the start of the bike “loops” – a point o point of about 12 miles and then onto two 47mile loops before heading to the Macron stadium for T2. The 12 miles to the loop are uneventful and relatively fast, being on open dual carriageways and retail park areas – all closed or coned off – a benefit of an even like this – felt like I was in the TDF!!
Once on the “loop”, the infamous sheep house lane comes up fast – here I saw Macca again at the bottom of the hill – it’s a steady climb, never steep, but relentless and constant until the top – a great atmosphere with crowds lining the bottom and top a la TDF style – and chalked names on the road – inspiring you to the top. Its then downhill to a sharp corner and a long stretch where I think I reached my max speed for the race of 68kms/hr.! The rest of the loop is technical in places with some hairy corners, and potholed sections, interspersed with lovely country lanes and flat open stretches, all in all meaning the average speed can be respectful over the distance. Feed stations every so often making a welcome break and onto loop 2 – with legs getting heavier and so the big two hills becoming a bit more of a grind. I was pleased with getting up Hunters Hill without bother though, which spurred me onto the last 20kms to the end of the bike leg, coming into T2 feeling like I couldn’t get off that damn saddle quick enough after 6hrs 57mins. Ian and Paul got round in just over 6 and a half hours each, putting them now over 30mins ahead of me. I did not know this at the time, but knowing they were ahead somewhere!
The run leg of any triathlon is always my strongest, and the start of the marathon was no exception – I started strong, with a feeling that if I could settle into a steady pace I was used to, I would be on for my target of 13hrs overall – it was now 8hrs 45mins after I started, so I had to do a 4hrmarathon to achieve this goal. Then the first hill came up, and my head and legs suddenly felt heavy – and I realised for the first time that day, how hot it was getting – it was now close to 27 deg, and the sun was out! A 10km first leg takes you along the canal, which affords a bit of shade on occasion, and I found my pace again, only to be hit again with a steep hill to take me onto the start of the town “loops’ – I found myself “walking” for the first time ever in a marathon – but I looked around, and I was certainly not alone!
Once on the “loop”, I dug deep and got a pace going to complete the first one- it felt like a long way, and I had to do 3 of these before heading into town for the last time. The town part of the loop is amazing – streets lined with branded barriers behind which hundreds upon hundreds of spectators and supporters are cheering you on – you also pass tantalisingly close to the finish chute – knowing you cannot enter it until you have the 3 different colour wrist bands!! “Band envy” became something of a reality for the next 2 hours – counting down the miles and digging deeper and deeper, especially on the hilly parts. Macca and Paul Dewar were there on the bend after the hill to spur us all on – thanks again guys – you were amazing that day. I passed Ian and Paul going the other way about ½ loop ahead of me on the 2nd loop, and realised I had closed the gap somewhat, and could potentially gain some more on them. Naomi and Rowan had managed to make it to the loop to see my last two laps, and the finish, which spurred me on again, and made me avoid any further “walks”!!
I passed Paul on the last lap, and made my way further towards Ian, but knew that he was going stronger now and still had 15mins or so on me on the last lap – too much to gain in a few miles!
The feeling of getting the last band was one of sheer relief and carried me all the way to the last time down the hill into town – I picked up speed as does everyone I’m sure, carried by he euphoria of what is about to come as you enter the finishing chute and “glide” towards the finishing arch, the big screen showing you to the world, and the compere shouting the words “YOU ARE AN IRONMAN” – awesome – truly incredible and emotional moment. Apparently I reached out to “high 5” many hands on the way in, including Leonie Millburn’s, who was standing right next to my wife and son, and I didn’t see them – such is the focus and trippy feel of the finish!!
I met Ian in the finisher’s tent for pizza (!) and we had only just sat down to have it when Paul appeared – we then enjoyed a nice post race snack together before heading off UP a flight of stairs in the town hall for our post race massage – and time to get aching feet and legs into a pair of flip flops!!
A top day out – and a hard day at the office for sure – but as my first Ironman – I can also say I thoroughly enjoyed it (some of it retrospectively of course!) – and I can recommend it to anyone who is wanting to stretch their tri experience a bit – “anything is possible” right?
Job done – Ironman UK 2014 – her are our results (out of 200 athletes – UTC all over it!)
Ian Smith-Ward: 12:48:40 566th
Greg Bartlett: 13:04:39 673rd
Paul Millburn: 13:12:06 708th
Lee Beckett: 14:19:41 1082nd
Mick Sutter: 15:46:31 1434th
Windermere Triathlon 2014 by Lucy Jones
A 7.30am swim start and Kie being adamant that he was going to eat a minimum of 3 hours before the race meant a startled wake up to a 4.17am Sunday morning alarm. This was followed by bleary eyed donning of tri-suits, eating of race day bagels and quaffing of obligatory cuppa char’s before setting off into what was by all accounts, a beautiful morning.
Made it to Windermere from the Green with only a minor ‘discussion’ about route choice, I spent the journey entertaining myself taking scenery shots and selfies. Kie (more sensibly) spent the journey assessing the road surface, planning his racing line and generally focussing himself.
We were uncharacteristically early and for perhaps only the second time ever, reasonably well prepared. As we were doing pre-transition bike building we saw Greg- UTC representative number three. Hoody’s were on display.
I like to get into the lake, get out and repeat until it’s not a shock anymore. I shouldn’t have bothered on Sunday as the water (~17oC) was much, much warmer than the air (~5oC), and all that I ended up doing was attracting midges to my newly dampened skin.
As we were stood in our wetsuits waiting for the slightly delayed briefing to start, Kie noticed a guy on the rack over from us trying to change a flat- he stepped in to assist & the guy was all set to race just as we were directed to make our way into the water for our Wave 1 start. A quick hug from my parents (who had heroically turned up in spite of the early start) and we were lining up to ‘dib’ in.
Standard in water discussion about route with fellow competitors (that buoy? no that buoy, keep them on the left? No, on the right etc.) and we were off. I could see Kie pulling away ahead of me, and decided not to chase him down, take my own line and just cruise it. Then a fat guy elbowed me in the head. Cue anger, ankle grabbing, a burst of speed & I was back in clear water. The rest of the swim was splendid. I have terrible circulation, and can’t normally feel my hands for most of the swim- not this race, it was positively balmy. Nearing the red marker buoys on the final 300m or so I noticed Kie up ahead of me, I don’t know how, but we pretty much always end up exiting the water within 20 seconds of each other. Kie, 25 minutes 10 seconds (9th overall), Lucy: 25 minutes 20 seconds (10th overall, 3rd female), Greg 34 minutes, 36 seconds (89th overall).
Kie and I were racked next to each other- a quick ‘I loved that swim’ ‘because it was warm’ ‘good luck’ ‘go get em’ and Kie was running off out of transition shoes clipped to pedals, whilst I faffed about putting mine on.
I really like the bike route, I guess because it is so familiar. I name fellow competitors in my head, I spent most of the first half of the race overtaking ‘bianchi boy’ and ‘tanned relay lady’ on the uphills to be whizzed past by them on the downhills as I cautiously navigated my way down (I’m convinced I won’t survive another downhill crash and thus take it overly steady). At Newby bridge Iain was waiting with a camera and let me know that Kie was currently in the lead (whoop!). By this point I’d drunk all of my High 5…
My folks were parked a bit further round the back of the lake.
‘How many ladies ahead?’
‘Shit. Ah well’.
More fast female swimmers than I was used to – Kie confirmed it took him until Hawkshead to catch the leader- who turned out to be a lady (! <<- the exclamation mark is Kie’s). Kie: 1h 15mins 23secs (1st overall bike) Lucy: 1h 29mins 41 secs (42nd overall, 4th female) Greg: 1h 32 mins 50 secs (64th overall).
Back in off the bike without any hiccups (not the case for unluckily punctured Greg) and all I wanted to know was whether Kie was still in the lead & if he had anything left in the bottle on his bike- he did- hurrah! A sip to get me moving and I set off for the first and slowest of my 5 laps (confirming with a marshall on the way out of transition that a guy in blue was in the lead). I struggled round the first loop as dehydration took hold and I even considered sacking off the race to cheer Kie on- I stopped to drink a full cup of water as I collected my first lap counter (elastic band); a disappointed ‘Come on Lucy’ i.e. get moving from my Mum (we’re a competitive bunch)- and as I was replying with a ‘look’ and the question ‘is he still in the lead?’ I received a tap on the arse as Kie sprinted by looking strong in his UTC colours. I followed him out on to my second loop, by the end of my third Kie was stood spectating with my folks, and I was starting to feel good again. Perhaps too little too late. Kie: 41 mins 43 secs (5th fastest run), Lucy 49 mins 26 secs (42nd overall run, 5th female), Greg 46 mins 30 secs (21st overall run).
There is always the worry with wave starts that your win can be taken from under you, but not this time for Kie, he held them all off, finishing over 3 minutes ahead of second place (2h 24 mins, 7 secs). I lost a place to a later wave, 26th Overall, 5th female (2h 47 mins, 19 secs). Greg came 59th overall (2h 58 mins, 5secs), he would have been faster if not for that pesky meddling puncture- but at least he still beat his racing nemesis/friend Andy Dickson.
Kudos to Lindsay Turnbull who finished first lady and an impressive 5th overall.
A party the night before a race may not sound like the best preparation but a couple of pints of carb-heavy hydrating shandy may in fact have been key to success at Windermere….
Iain Smith-Ward – City to Summit – A TRI (p) across Scotland – Sunday 1st June 2014
Originally entered in 2012 for the first race in 2013, and deferred a year due to on-going knee injuries, this has been a long event since the start… and wouldn’t stop being long until the finish!
This is basically an Iron-distance race – a 3.8km swim of two loops between the Forth road and rail bridges, followed by a bike of 110 miles through central Scotland to Glencoe, and finishing with a (slightly long) marathon including up and down Ben Nevis. Doesn’t sound too bad if you say/read it quickly…
The organisers have tried to open this event up to as many people as possible – you can omit the swim to make it into a duathlon, and you can take either one or two days, depending on your level of fitness (or how hard you want to make it!!) Ever the optimist, I opted for the whole lot in a day.
Registration was Friday on the waterfront at South Queensferry. The water looked perfect – still, little current, and the two massive bridges looming overhead gave a real sense of scale to what we were entering into for the rest of the weekend. Bike racking was easy, and bag packing for both the run and bike transitions, plus an extra bag of dry, clean kit plus sleeping bag to be transported to the finish, was made easier by having plenty of time in the warm sunshine. Once completed, it was time to eat, sleep, and panic about the day ahead…
Staying with a friend in Edinburgh made the overnight logistics easier, and with the alarm set for 4.00am, it was un-needed as already awake since 3.20… Out of the house and into the car by 4.25 to find the streets of Edinburgh virtually deserted. A quick tour of the city centre courtesy of a wrong turn, and 30 minutes later found me parking at South Queensferry and donning wetsuit and sorting out final gear before wandering towards transition.
Race briefing at 5.45am was good natured, and we were informed that due to the good conditions (calm waters and a ‘balmy’ 12°c!!) we would be swimming the full distance. We were allowed to gloves and socks (providing they weren’t webbed!), and together with neoprene hats, the water didn’t actually feel too bad. The swim start is on a long sloping jetty going into the Forth, where you exit off the side and swim towards the road bridge. This must rate as one of the easiest races for sighting – just to the left of the first upright on the road bridge until you get to the marker. Turn left and go towards the white house on the end, turn and then the third bridge pillar to the right of the last arch. Then repeat. After an uneventful first lap, the second turned into a bit of a race as the first marker buoy had broken loose, necessitating in a sprint to catch and swim round it! Back to the jetty, and then a 300m run/walk to transition. No rush – it’s going to be a long day – so make sure clothing is sorted, food in place, and a quick drink before setting off.
The bike starts by going through South Queensferry – about 800m of cobbles! and then one of the many highlights of the day – going over the Forth road bridge. The first thirty miles or so are all undulating, starting more urban through Rosyth and Dunfermline before entering Glendevon and Gleneagles (30 miles) where the first ‘pit-stop’ would be. A quick refill of drink, and then out on the road again for the next 30 mile section to Lochearnhead. The scenery up to this point was stunning, and as we headed towards the highlands, it was only going to get bigger and better. The long climb up Glen Ogle followed, and then the (equally) long descent started this 20 mile section, but it was the long gradual climbs in the second half of the section which reduced my speed considerably, especially the pull up to The Green Welly at Tyndrum and the third pit-stop. I could quite happily of stopped at this point!! Four pieces of flapjack, half a bottle of energy drink, and eight minutes later, and it was back out onto the road for the final 32 miles of biking. After the first climb, luckily with a second wind courtesy of the aforementioned food, a monstrously long, very fast, descent towards Bridge of Orchy felt great, and sped us towards the final real climb of the bike going up onto Rannoch Moor. Again, the long gradual ascents which followed, by now into the wind, kept average speeds down, and also kept the suffering levels up, lest we became blasé about how things were going! Going down Glencoe was amazing – towering mountains on either side as we descended towards the end of the bike, and the start of the next part of the adventure.
Ballachulish village hall was the location of Transition 2, where we could finally get off our bikes, and start the ‘run’. With only one recognised pit-stop on the whole run route (at approx 18miles), we had to carry enough provisions to get us to the foot of the Ben, and I, like many, opted for a ruc-sac type Camel-bak plus extras, to carry the additional extra clothing and other mandatory equipment we were required to take. The first ten kilometres were relatively flat, and were a welcome start before the big climb up from Loch Leven and over on to the West Highland Way at about 15km. The next 13km varied between good mountain shooting tracks to rough forest paths, all giving an overall impression of going ‘up’!, but which actually finished at the same elevation, albeit on the other side of the hill, at the final pit-stop. This was where you could be timed out of the final ascent of the Ben and told to go direct to the finish.
The organisers had pulled out all the stops at this final stop, with the usual biscuits, flapjacks, drinks and crisps supplemented with Redbull, Coke and hot chocolate. Two cups of hot choc and a packet of custard creams later, and the last challenge began, at roughly the time you would normally be finishing an IM run. From the road crossing, we had 9 miles to go – 4½ up, and 4½ down. The path up Ben Nevis starts steep, and doesn’t feature ANY downhill or flat all the way to the top. Snow patches were encountered from about 1200m and with the increasing wind, meant temperatures were decidedly ‘nippy’, but I decided to not bother with extra clothing as I hoped not to be up there too long, and also that I felt worse when I stopped.
Any thoughts of an easy finish were quickly dispelled after turning to start the descent, with the rough path and tired legs a great combination for staggering like a drunk, and frequent stumbles meant it was actually quicker to walk rather than try to run. Dusk was rapidly approaching as the path flattened out near the bottom, and a final jog took me over the river and into the finish chute – 16 hours, 34 minutes and 4 seconds after the start.
A great day out – the views from start to finish were stunning, and the swim is possibly one of the most iconic you can get in the UK. Yes, I had a couple of rough patches (70-80 miles on the bike, and the final climb near the top of the Ben) which are present in any long race, but the knowledge that it was all going to stop soon kept dragging/pushing me onwards. If you are looking for something a bit different (and long), then this could be for you.
For anyone still awake enough to care, or any anoraks out there…
Swim – 1.17.54 : Bike – 6.50.26 : Run – 8.08.25 (2hr33mins for the final climb, 1hr35mins for the descent) : Transitions – 17.19 (T1 and T2)
I used my TT bike – mainly good roads (lots of rough surfaces!), and orienteering shoes for the run.
Amazingly, I only suffered a blister on a little toe and another under my right foot (and the odd bit of cramp)
Nutrition – during the event, I consumed approx 4.5 litres of High-5 energy drink, approx 10 gels, one bag of crisps, 4 chunks of flapjack, 3 custard creams and a couple of cups of hot chocolate. I ate considerably more that evening and the following day…
Paul Rodger – Old Man of Coniston Triathlon – 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
CHRIS CLINCH – Brian Chapman Memorial Audax – 17th May 2014
“It must be close to dawn…..I can hear a Blackbird singing” I look for an affirmation from my mate Richard as much to confirm it’s not just another sleep deprived hallucination. But he’s asleep, slumped in the other corner of the bus shelter. A Turkish Delight bar slipping from his fingers to his lap covered in crisps and jelly beans. No we aren’t waiting for a night bus home after an all night session but part way through an Audax, a long distance cycle event, the legendary Brian Chapman Memorial audax to be exact. 633 km from Chepstow to Menai and back; basically the full length of Wales….twice…..in one go…..non stop…..no bailout option……no backup…. hardcore! I have no idea where I am but I know exactly where I am on my route card: my lifeline: my bible “1st exit @ RBT, $ Dolgellau for 23.3 Km (elapsed distance 402.5KM) I have lost the feeling in parts of my feet, hands, shoulders and backside. My neck and knees are throbbing despite the alternative dosing of ibuprofen and paracetamol. My stomach is churning and I am dizzy with dehydration and sunburn. But the couple degrees above zero cold is nicely numbing the hands and feet and we should hit the next control by dawn for some respite and another 3 course meal – I can’t think any further than that otherwise I’ll jack it in. So let’s rewind a little how did I get here? As usual it’s a text or a call from Richard my riding mate “Fancy a ride out in Wales in May, I have some unfinished business on an Audax I bailed out on last year, fancy it?” Now Richard is not your average cyclist, he’s ridden round Australia, solo across N America coast to coast and last summer got bored so set off on a bike ride from his home in Sheffield and ended up in Istanbul…Turkey not the kebab shop in the high street in Barnsley. So I should have clocked the fact he found the Brian Chapman Memorial audax last year a bit tough…! But I didn’t know Wales very well and I had always wondered how far I could go on a bike as had only done the Fred Whitton and similar 120 mile max sportives, so what the heck. Plus Lands End John O Groats was a blast with Richard a couple years back. So I sent my cheque off just after X-mas and forgot about it. A mail from the organizer mid April prodded me into action but stuff at home prevented me from getting the mileage in. so short of 100 miles in the Dales with Richard in March that was it, no entry in the Fred Whitton to bring me up to speed this year either. I forgot about it again. The week before the event I threw a new chain on the bike, fitted a rack , a map board, lights and speedo and rode it to the pub and back; job done. Friday 16th May saw me on the road to Chepstow and a night in a hot and noisy hotel before a bright cool morning start. About 160 riders started at 6am heading north into Wales via the Black mountains for the Brecons.
A more eclectic mix I had not seen since hanging out with the courier riders and urban cyclists of East London. Tattoos, piercings, cycle caps in place of helmets, no pro team kit, sandals and spds, Fixed/single speeds, excessive facial hair, Brooks saddles and Carradice seat bags, steel frames and down tube shifters. Even one guy with a tent on his rack. The craic was friendly and of route choices (you go where you want between controls) weather and favorite café stops. The pace was steady (15kph to 20kph), the weather dry and sunny, all was good. The miles started to clock up on my speedo as we sped through villages and towns with increasingly unpronounceable and lengthening Welsh names. We had the lost the bunch during a cafe stop but reeled in stragglers and were overtaken by more committed riders. We had settled into a routine of “knees under” food stops every 2 hours or so punctuated with comfort breaks and a near constant feeding routine from jersey back pockets to keep the fuel tanks full. First sight of the sea near Aberystwyth and 170 ish Km on the clock. Then we hit some big hills near Dolgellau; Cross Foxes…and its not even in the 100 great climbs book; WHY!?!
Freewheeling into the control at a YHA near Dolgellau we launched into a 3 course dinner. Some would overnight here and so bags had been dropped with change of clothing/spares etc. I restocked my pockets with fuel, changed socks and gloves and assembled some warmer clothing for the night leg as it would be 4 am at the earliest before we were back here having passed through the halfway point at Menai. I didn’t think about this or the fact the next 2 stages were the toughest in terms of distance and altitude gained (you go through Snowdonia twice). I like hills and I like night biking – so lets go. We crossed the foot and rail bridge to Barmouth and watched the setting sun over the Lllyn peninsular en route for Harlech
I love the dusk and dawn and the views didn’t disappoint here. We celebrated the end of the daylight with screwballs, hot chocolate, flapjack and rice cakes on the forecourt of a garage in PENRHYNDEUDRAETH. Night started to fall and the lights went on; perfect timing as we hit the big hills on Snowdonia. Ultra distance events are a large part mental toughness and the night shrouded the hills and their severity after Bedgellert with only the faint lights of other audax all nighters showing us the height of Pen y Pass into Lllanberris high above us as we climbed past the lakes in the valleys. We hit the top of Pen Y Pass about 23:00 with a biting wind in our face.
We threw on wind proofs and turned on the lights to the max before plummeting into Llanberris in the valley below. We passed the banners and flags for the slateman Tri that was going on that weekend. My girlfriend competing in her first tri there, her event starting and finishing in half the time it was taking me to get between a single control point. She was tucked up n her camper now after a night of celebrations……lucky lass…. Pressing on at speed now the draw of Menai and halfway pulling us onto Anglesey. The lights of Menai and the bridge were blinding and a real culture shock after so long in the wilds. I launched into another 3 courser dinner/breakfast/midnight feast and then some stretching routines to ease legs back and neck.
Some banter with BCM regulars lifted the spirits as we headed out for another dose of Snowdonia at 1am Sunday morning. Passing the Saturday night drunks with their Donner Kebabs weaving their way home we were soon back in the wilds of North Wales and heading south at last. Between 2 and 4 am I hit my low point, a combination of tiredness and low temperatures reduced the power output and average speed significantly. We hit patch after patch of cold mist (speedo telling me close to 0 degrees here) which scattered our light beams and confused our tired minds. Kamikaze rabbits hopped out of the verge causing spikes in heart rates and screams of abusive over tired vocal chords. The last straw came when I rode over a low branch sticking into in the road and was convinced it was someone trying to pull me off the bike. This is where we decided to take 5 in the bus shelter mentioned above. By the time I had roused Richard the stupid o’clock dog walkers were out crossing the other side of the road to avoid us and the dawn chorus was deafening. The hardest thing to do is get back on your bike after a stop. Everything screams at you to stop, get off again and lie down, but you have no choice but to keep going: this is Audax – no backup, no broom wagon, no plan B. Shut out mind and body – just pedal and keep looking ahead – machine like. And then its light, the pre dawn sunlight illuminating the areas outside our headlights beams. Eyes relaxing after hours of straining into darkness for hints of road debris to bring us off. The birds go quieter and the increasing air temperature allows layers to be removed and glasses lens change from night yellow to tinted. Air on skin and sun on skin. So glad we kept going, this is brilliant, we crack a joke and we are back in the groove. Average speeds lift and we cruise into the YHA where we had dinner(?) 10 hours ago.
A group of fast lads were going out having snatched a couple of hours sleep. cheery waves and shouts of “chapeau, bonne Route” etc were exchanged . then the usual routine of 3 courser was played out but with me falling asleep sitting upright eating porridge
The dining room looked like a battle field command center. Riders are being helped off their bikes and herderd into control for registration. GPS devices and phones being charged en masse, bewildered riders unable to make tea or order food. Kitchen staff barking food orders to the masses, sunburn and road rash stripe the unlucky few, bodies asleep everywhere, some facedown on tables asleep whilst part way through a breakfast. The smell of embrocating cream, chamois cream and bacon fills the air. There is little conversation just fueling and maintenance of the man-machines. I take myself away from the carnage and stretch, change of clothes and we are off again wobbling into the morning heading for East Wales and Shropshire. I had forgotten about cross foxes, the killer climb form earlier. This time we did its evil brother: longer and higher but with a sweet 68 kph max on the downhill. This is the shortest stage at 65Km and we cruise along a quiet A470 heading South East for Aberhafesp. We stop at a café for another coffee and I a mention to Richard that its strange so many people are having bacon butties as its Sunday afternoon, he reminds me its 10am!…..just feels like afternoon to us all nighters.
The motorbike nutters start appearing as the morning draws on, you can hear them coming but it’s still disconcerting to be passed at 100mph where you know one sleep induced wobble will put you into their narrow but fatal path. The temperature is rising rapidly my speedo reading 29 degrees as we pull into the next control and its museli, tinned fruit, rice pud’ custard and cake. Some Sunday Lunch this is!, but perfect for our fuel craving bodies and churning stomach. Slap on some sun cream on the already sunburnt bits and we are off making a run for the Welsh border. We pass cider orchards now and we fantasize about lying in the shade drinking cool cider all afternoon….But Newtown draws us in and spits us out up a narrow, airless potholed 1 in 5 that kicks at times into 1 in 4. My speedo is reading 30 deg’s, I am overheating, my legs are screaming, I’m doing 6/7Kmh and other riders are off pushing, swearing or lying in the verge. their discomfort steels me to push to the summit and a breeze. I pick a rider 500m in front and reel him in before the summit. And then I’m falling: dropping like a stone over rough open moorland roads and filling loosening cattle grids down into England and Shropshire. Herds of small dark wild welsh ponies pace me and play chicken on blind corners. Knighton welcomes us in a blinding bottom of the valley airless heat and we seek shelter in an air-conditioned Spar. There is a bunch of us now and we strip the shop of ice creams, rice pudding, yoghurt and fruit like locusts. Our nauseous stomachs unable to process anything else. BRAMPTON BRYAN, Lingen, Presteigne pass by as names out of fast show comedy sketch. I pick up the scent of apples and perhaps a cider press, we round a corner and there is Dunkertons. One of the many Meccas to fermented apple juice (cider) lovers like myself. But we have to press on…..SACRILIDGE!! we are heading for Weobly now and a till receipt to show proof of passage from the local shop. The shop is shutting so we grab at random items and are shooed out.
The speedo reads 553Km so only 47Km to go right? I turn over the route sheet to the last section and read aloud 78.5Km!?! WHAT!?! I forgot the route is longer this year due to roadwork’s, but it’s a slap in the face. I am exhausted mentally now, we have been riding for over 36 hours non stop, and realise I’m not going to back until 10pm and then a 5 hour drive home. MISTAKE!! Never think too far ahead on an Audax, just take on bite sized chunks. I look around and other riders are mounting up so I do the same as don’t want to be left alone and venerable: safety in numbers! . I’m in a group of 10 with the leader riding GPS, I switch off for the first time form the route card and allow myself to be led. All of a sudden we stop, the GPS has led up us a cul de sac. Its my own fault, trusting someone else. Richard and I exchange glances and know we are on the same page, we retrace our steps, orientate ourselves and are off following the route card. The bunch arguing behind us. We both want to be home now and are working 5mins on the front and off rotating to keep the pace high, we are averaging 30Kph and are picking off groups and soloists for fun. Some jump on our train but cannot maintain the speed, the last 2 days have brought some conditioning to our leg muscles it seems.
Signs start appearing for Chepstow and the temperature starts to drop. We don’t stop to add layers our high heart rate keeping us warm, we drop into Monmouth and are following the stunning Wye as it winds towards Chepstow. We fly past Tintern Abbey and start the ascent before the drop into Chepstow. My backside is so painful I have alternate cheeks: pedaling lopsidedly, I cannot stand as my knees are to inflamed and painful my wrists too sore to bear the weight. The road climbs steadily round more corners and straights, I listen to the sound of the engines of passing motorbikes straining to hear them shut off the revs at the top, they go out of earshot before I can hear this, we’ve been climbing for 20 mins and I slow to a near stop examining the route sheet. This can’t be right my speedo shows we should be in Chepstow according to the route sheet, have we gone wrong?, where are all the other riders? Panic sets in for the first time and I dare to think about packing in. packing in 5km from the finish, what am I thinking? But I have had enough of all this, its just stupid! But who will come and pick me up: no-one, SUGAR! I have to press on! Another 10 mins and we are at the top and dropping again, past the race course and views of the Severn and the lights of Chepstow. I’m freezing but can’t stop as I won’t get back on. We pass the welcome to Chepstow sign but we can’t relax as we need to find the finish. We have 40 minutes before the final control closes. A solo rider speeds past so we jump on his tail and weave through suburbia and to familiar roads passed over nearly 40 hours previously. The control comes into sight and we dump the bikes and a kind person says “lets call it 9:30 shall we, hope you enjoyed it, Beans on toast, rice pudding and cake over there for you” No medal, no t shirt, no certificate, no clapping. But I don’t care; beans on toast and rice pud’ is all I want. So that’s 633 Km in an elapsed 39.5 hours. My speedo and shows about 24Kph moving average and Strava about 10000M of climbing to the 500Km point where I ran out of battery. That’s over 3 times the furthest I have ever been in one go on a bike and 4 times as long in the saddle. I’m just glad to be still in one piece and free of incidents. I would probably do this again, but with some training before hand and perhaps 2 brakes instead of just the front. Did I mention I had lost a rear pad before the start: certainly made the descents more interesting… especially on the night section in Snowdonia…