I have had a couple of Hardknott ales at the local pub. My girls have just taken an early night. And there are a couple of beers in the fridge. Fast Soul is on the stereo. As I write this race report on the balcony there is the sound of rushing water. We are still in the Lakes and the sky is dramatically beautiful.
I pre warn you, this is a lengthy report. It matches the enormity of the event. Either stop reading now or settle in with a beer, glass of wine, or cup of tea. Whatever your preference!
Arriving at Windermere, we are greeted by an alluring mist. As soon as I saw this mystical scene across the lake, I knew the day was going to be fantastic. When you smash out a big wattbike during the winter months, you dream about moments like these.
On Saturday 25 June 2016, we were here to do Triathlon X. The hardest Ironman on the planet.
Getting ready in transition, I saw Rob from Cup of Tri doing some pre-race podcast interviews. Would have given a few words apart from the fact time was not on my side and putting shoes on my bike and the rest of the T1 faff was more important. Anyway, I had said on Tri Talk I would do an interview on Scafell !
Slightly slow off the swim start, a 50m hardcore shift to sit on Stan Gruncell’s legs was required. Chuffed as often miss the front pack and have to lead everyone else back to shore. Stan has a big kick and I just sat behind him the whole way for the 2 lap course to Seamew Crag Island and back. Uneventful apart from cramping in last few hundred meters and having to breastroke !
54 minutes. I tend to swim irregularly (purely a time thing) and was pleasantly surprised what some 10-20 min 50m swim sets can achieve based on plenty of swim miles in my teens under the tutoriage of my Grandma.
Wetsuit off. Jammers off. Worcester Triathlon suit on loaded with ten gels jammed into my back pockets. And then straight out of transition. No socks. No gloves. No arm warmers.
I asked the Marshall, as I exited T1, ‘how many ahead ?’ ‘No-one’ was the reply. Get in. 1st place ????
Having completed the Fred Whitton Sportive earlier this year (same 112 miles and 3900m of climbing), I settled in nice and easy for the insane bike route. Tapping away and making sure I lowered my watts anytime it hit 300+ watts as the mountain passes started.
And I felt cold ! And my lower back was tight ! I had suffered the last couple of weeks with pain. Just not had chance to see my osteopath to get it cracked out. The wetsuit giving extra buoyancy had clearly taken a toll.
Keeping my mind as positive as possible, I was annoyed this tightness was making me want a piss already. Pass that thought.
And ride. Up the Struggle. And loving it. Down Struggle. And loving it. Hands freezing!
An hour in the eventual winner, Andrew Drobeck (a 8.31 pro Ironman triathlete from USA), went past. And he literally danced past me. ‘Dude, congratulations you are now first’….’No way, man’ he replied.
2 hours into the bike and I had to stop for the second time. Really cold, I struggled to undo my top. Hands frozen together and incapable.
And that’s when I was now 3rd as someone sailed past.
On either Honister or Newlands, I got passed for 4th by another Kona boy, Gareth Huxley.
Then after stopping for a third time, I got caught by 3 guys. 2 of which were overbiking. And one was doing plenty of drafting. After having a word and then going past, I had the words ‘chill out, we are all after a piece of slate’ in my mind to make me angry.
My back was crucifying me. And some kid was telling me to chill out whilst he drafted his way round the course ! It is suppose to be a personal challenge. Enter a sportive, dude, if that’s what you want to do. Otherwise save it for the run where I get comradery can be a great mental comfort to completion. Just don’t take a 20% benefit over 7-8hrs.
And then Hardknott after 95 miles or so with the 30% gradient. As I went over the cattle grid and started the climb, a few doubts entered my mind. Although I had climbed it ok on the Fred Whitton Sportive, I had not planned to nail a marathon up England’s highest mountain that day.
Anyway, up Hardknott, I unclipped. This was a really tough decision to make. Never before have I not cycled up a mountain. On retrospect, I am really proud I made the decision. Later when climbing Scafell, it was clearly right. Not for my muscles. Just to keep my heart rate steady. From experience, I know I am not great on long events when I spike my heart for too long.
Then Wrynose. A decent amount of the way into the climb, again I unclipped.
Now the last 15k or so home. Time to smash it. Just like on the recent Dragon sportive ride when, with a mate Dean Edwards, I smashed the last 50 of the 230k ride. One of only three bikes longer than 3 hours that I have done in the last 18 months !
209 watts of normalised power over 7hrs 14. 82% of FTP. 2.9 w / kg for anyone remotely interested !
As I entered T2 in 4th, Vicki and Cali were there. Wow. I had told them not to bother and would see them at the end. Racked my bike. Sat on the floor to put on socks and shoes on. And then off. Not before kissing the girls. Delighted to see them both. Could not believe they had made the effort ! And totally chuffed.
As I left T2, and with my girls in my mind, I was convinced I would run well as I always back myself when it gets tough.
For the first few miles all was good along the Cumbria Way. And then I took a wrong way into a quarry. Missed a sign. Perhaps 10 or so mins of lost time. Must pay more attention to my watch! It was programmed to tell me when to take a turn. In fact I had purposely made sure I was not looking at any other data (no distance, time, heart rate etc). Totally messed up. My mistake.
At New Dungeon, the only aid station on the marathon (it is an out and back and therefore you see it twice) after 8 miles or so, I finally caught up with 1 or 2 who had passed me and by quickly flying through the station, I was in 4th again.
As I went into 3rd, passing Warren Mason (50+ and clearly a super fit guy), he asked me why I felt good. Beautiful childhood memories of walking holidays in Abergervenny and using those thoughts to fuel my ascent was the reason at the time. Later on, I would use special runs or hikes in places like Peru, Havana, or Hong Kong alongside those training times in my back yard (Malverns, Bredon, Croome Court) to flick between these positive memories and the here and now of the event.
3rd all the way up until Scafell summit. I take a couple of selfies on the way up. I want to remember this place and these times. It’s truly beautiful.
On the way down, I get taken by a fell runner. I stay close for a while.
The descent is truly in your face. Constant. In your face. Concentration required to hop and jump from one boulder to another as fast as possible. Emergency caffeine gel taken to wire the senses.
Ha ha and then I take the wrong way and suddenly I am off piste. And in a bit of trouble on very steep inclines. After making it close again to the path, I don’t raise my leg high enough and take a tumble on shale. Cutting my knee and lower leg. Got away with it. Flesh wounds only.
As you descend, you meet lots of people going the other way. We all shout encouragement at each other. Camaraderie built on this truly magnificent adventure. We all want everyone to have a great day.
See Nick Mansley who I had met training in Lanzarote in January with Bella Bayliss at Sands Beach. Another guy who balances a hectic schedule with the fun to be had on endurance escapades.
And then Rob, from Cup of Tri. No time to stop though for a podcast interview as time had been burned taking selfies on top of Scafell ! I wish the Oxygen Addict well.
Back to Dungeon aid station and I pick up some more energy. Kendal mint cake is all gone. Back to gels.
8 miles of trails to really suck it up, running at pace. Stan Gruncell catches me on the flat. He is having a great day and I can not stay with him.
Then a load of undulation. A run / walk strategy required to get up the hills. Ian Fothergill catches me. He states there are another couple of guys close behind and picks up the pace. This time I stay in touch and we chat the last few miles away, triumphant in our achievement.
As we approach our Ambleside finish, Ian summons up the energy to kick on. This gives me the opportunity to truly take in the experience and look forward to seeing Vicki and Cali at the finish line. And there they are. I slow to a walk and embrace them. The finish line can wait. As I am competitive, I make sure this trait is tempered with more important virtues.
6th overall in the toughest ironman on the planet.
A fabulous glow embraces me as I enjoy a pint of local ale and kiss the Cumbrian slate medal