Blimey. What a race!
A 0430 start in a misty Windermere as the sun was rising made for a mythical swim. The remaining mist made sighting extremely tricky for the two laps as there were only two tiny buoys to navigate before swimming back towards Ambleside.
I made a few hard efforts to catch up with some large groups and luckily they were more or less on course. Many others ended up all over the place and covering a lot more than 2.4 miles.
The start of the bike course took us straight up the struggle and I passed quite a few riders at this point. After that I didn’t see anybody apart from one rider all the way to Keswick. That’s where I saw Marlous and she said that I’d gone from 86th out of the water up to 20th. The bike course was basically the same as The Fred Whitton Challenge, so the next big pass was Honister. This was my first time that I’d taken it, and it was a sharp awakening to the challenges ahead of me. The descent off Honister pass was extreme due to the bumpy surface and severity but the next two passes, Newlands and Whinlatter were easier to go up and come down (although 20 and 25% gradients at their steepest). It was on Whinlatter where I saw Marlous again, all covered in midgey bites. Camera at the ready, she had enlisted a couple of ladies with cow bells to cheer me up whilst taking photos ahead of the stop where I got to stock up from my exchange bag. She told me that I was now in 13th place! Lots of big lumps followed including Cold Fell and I was starting to think about the dreaded twin threat of Hardnknott and Wrynose passes. When I finally got to Hardknott after 90mi I didn’t need to experience it to see why it’s the hardest climb in Britain as it was all laid out before me. The tight switchbacks and bobbly surface make it a hell of a climb and thankfully the motorists that I encountered were encouraging and patient, one even recognising my VSCC kit. Wrynose from this direction was relatively quick…but not painless. Speaking of pain – my arms on both descents were certainly feeling it as I was doing more than a healthy amount of braking. My descending confidence could do with some work but I was just happy to be over the hardest part on the bike. It was quite a straight forward ride back to Ambleside but I hadn’t taken note of Hawkshead hill – quite a long climb when you’ve already ridden 102mi. So with the 110mi complete it was time to dismount and I was very surprised to see Marlous on marshal duty at the dismount line (she stepped in to help as other marshals were called away to deal with an incident).
With my backpack of supplies on, I was off on my way to climb the highest peak in England. More challenging was picking out the tiny arrows that the organiser had laid out and having not recced the route I did take a few wrong turns. More frustrating was the state of my legs – normally I can expect to come off the bike with some good pace but the cycle route had really taken its toll, my left knee was in a bad way, and I was shuffling. Even so, I got to a pub which was the 1st checkpoint to find out that I was in 10th place. The next pub I got to was at New Dungeon Ghyll – the start of the mountain section (T2a).
Here I picked up extra supplies and gave a quick hello to Marlous as she was getting her well deserved lunch. The extremely hard part now began. The ascent up to Mickledon was a long one but not too steep. After that there were a series of ups and downs – Rhosset Ghyll, Esk Hause, Great End and Broad Cragg. The summit of Scafell pike was now just about visible through the clouds and with a sharp climb to it I was touching the top in no time. The mountain rescue marshals up on this section were great and there was plenty of banter. The descent back down to the valley flew by and I was looking forward to flat running at the bottom although I was now starting to lose places to the fell running specialists. At this point I was passing loads of competitors coming the other way and it made me appreciate how far up the field I still was. The run in valley was not as fast as I was hoping – the course had taken its toll on me but I wasn’t doing too much walking. I saw Marlous again at T2a amongst a small mass of supporters and carried on along the river Brathay for the final 7mi back towards Ambleside. It was nice and flat here but once I was nearer to the town the road got lumpy, cramp was setting in and I was having to walk a bit. A few more places were lost along here but after a short while I could finally see the boat masts at Waterhead which marked the finish line at the YHA. Spirits were lifted and my pace too, not high enough to stop two more runners from catching up to me but I was able to lift it one more time to hold them off. 28mi of running and the hardest triathlon in the world completed in around 16hrs.
It was half past eight now which meant I had time for a massage, some food and pint before loads of faffing and bed. The faffing was still going on after Marlous had fallen asleep – it’d been a long day for her spectating and I really appreciated her encouragement. Great day and I was very proud to fly the Valley Striders flag.
Swim – 1:14:14
Bike – 7:07:59 (5th fastest)
Run – 7:23:05
Overall – 15:50:01 (23rd/148)
Write up by Benjamin Hall