The Brutal Triathlon 2017The day started with an anti-socially alarm at 05:25. Or at least it would have, had I not already been awake from 05:00 – awake with nervous anticipation of the day ahead. Peering out through the curtains, it was still fully dark, the road glistening with recent rain.
The swimAs we made our way to the lake shore, the sky was lightening, with wisps of mist on the surface of the lake, and growing light in the early Welsh morning. We waited expectantly in the chill air, before being informed of a delay due to one of the marker buoys being out of position – a key buoy designed to keep us out of the cold-water channel. At 07:25 we were counted into the water. Having a long and difficult (but not recent) history with open water, I swam immediately to deep water to acclimatise, check my goggles, and put my face in the water. “Slightly chilly” is pretty apt. Fricking cold would describe it too. I felt good. Calm, and in control. I’d trained over winter at Tooting Bec lido, so the cold of the water didn’t bother me. I moved forwards in the waiting group, and to the right, away from the main pack. I’d started working my way towards the back of the field when the hooter sounded. Immediately the washing machine got going, and I found myself being bumped as faster swimmers went past me at speed. It wasn’t aggressive – just people looking for space. I rapidly found myself falling back in the field, but this was where I wanted to be. I’d always planned to be at the back, and to one side. I started well, but without warning, I had a minor panic/ anxiety attack, which I couldn’t control while still swimming. Even writing this, I’m angry at my brain for this, as I’ve worked tirelessly on open water swimming to combat it. I stopped swimming, and looked around me. The field was already strung out, and racing ahead. I looked at the safety kayak 50m away, and the idea of quitting flashed through my mind. “F..k that” I internalised – I was damned if I was stopping now, faced with the prospect of failure and humiliation.
BikeHeading out through Llanberis on my bike my mood immediately lifted. I wasn’t down as such, but the anxiety and the cold of the swim had taken something out of me mentally. The morning air was cold on my bare legs, and my tri suit under my cycling top was slightly soggy. I worried that I might get chilled, but cracked on with the job in hand. Turning left towards Ceunant I knew there were some minor hills to come as we went through Ceunant, and I cranked these out while revelling in the views towards Anglesey and the Menai Strait. It was truly beautiful, and with the fast run downhill to Waunfawr afterwards, the whole event was transformed in my mind. The first lap was mostly about grinning at the experience, the beauty of the surroundings, and the privilege of competing on such a course. A fast descent into Bedgellert brought childish whoops and hollers, and a big shit-eating grin, before the 8Km drag up to Pen-y-Pass. The climbs were longish but not taxing, and the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow would be hooning down the Llanberis pass back to transition. As I crested out at the summit by Pen-y-Pass, I set the GoPro running, and pushed the pedals harder until my courage ran out on the fast sweeping corners with their unforgiving rock walls.
RunI took my time in transition, having a bite to eat, some more tea, and a few minutes with my support crew (Jen). Just as I was about to exit the transition tent the air temperature dropped 5c, and the rain started! I donned an extra 2 layers of clothing and set off. Within 5 minutes I was along the lakeside, and it was immediately warmer and dry… The running was flat and easy, and my legs appeared to be playing ball. I checked by speed (5:30 per km) and settled in, more or less alone, save one other competitor behind me who I saw from time to time. The lake lap was uneventful, and I stopped at the feed station for more sweet, sticky stuff, and a chat with the volunteer who was a top bloke. I knew I was a back-marker, and today was about completing and enjoying, rather than trying to eek every last second off the clock. Before I knew it, I was into transition, a quick wrestle with my mountain pack, and I was being inspected for my fitness to continue. “Was I in a good condition?” Hell, yes! I set out through Llanberis, towards the foot of the Snowdon mountain path, having resolved I’d walk the tarmac given it’s inhospitable gradient. As I hit the steepest section of tarmac, I saw to my horror 2 competitors barrelling down the hill towards me. I’d figured it would take me 4 hours to do Snowdon, so were they really 4 hours ahead??? Getting onto the lower part of the Llanberis path, the practicality of running on this surface on my legs 6.5 hours into an event hit me, and I power walked to begin with, until the surface improved slightly, and I started running. I’d done a fair amount of hill training, and was able to jog the better sections. Before I knew it, Half-Way House and Jen hove into view. On I pushed, walking and running alternately, determined that this was a triathlon, and not a day out. The section running immediately up to Clogwyn station, and beyond was frankly a dog, and running was off the agenda for me – in some part down to a stomach full of coke that I’d downed at HalfWay House… Finally, the gradient relented, and I got my legs running again, with the summit within reach but not in sight. The cloud had closed in, it was raining and the temperature dropped with each passing metre of altitude gained. I briefly pondered donning a layer over my tri suit, but now just wanted to summit and get down. By the summit railway station I found the marshal/ medic who ticked me off his list, and said that I was done, and I could turn around. Bollocks to that – I’ve not come this far to not actually summit! I made my way through the throngs of hikers in their full waterproofs in my all too revealing skin-suit, unceremoniously made my way to the front, snapped a picture of the trig point and got the hell out of dodge. It was too cold to be hanging around! As I descended in the sub-zero air, with wind and whirling mist, my elation started to rise. Barring a fall, I’d only gone and done it! 10 minutes of running down and the clouds lifted, and I could see the spine of the mountain, Clogwyn station, the old slate quarry that I’d run up in May in the Slateman, the steam train and Llyn Padarn below.
I won’t lie. At this point I choked with emotion – looking at what I’d achieved. A quick reprimand about not being a soppy tit, an espresso gel for alertness and I was off again. I was now the runner coming down the mountain, greeting my fellow competitors as others had been greeting me on my way up. The path was dry, and I ran with increasing confidence all the way to the tarmac, and then into Llanberis.
As I made my way through town past the Snowdon mountain railway, I became aware of another competitor gaining on me, being egged on vociferously by his supporters. “Come on Tony – Reel him in.”, “You’ve got him”, “You’re right on him!”. “Screw that for a laugh” I said to myself as I upped my pace, frantically looking for the way to the field and the finish funnel. I darted the wrong way towards the lake railway, before correcting myself, and charging towards the final gate.
I ripped the gate open, barrelled through and uncharitably let it slam shut behind me – losing my footing as I cornered. With “Tony” now only a few paces behind me, I broke into a final sprint to the line, at full tilt after 8 hours and 41 minutes of endeavour.
I’d set a target time for the mountain of 4 hours, and took 2:21, finishing 16/ 90.