Sunday, May 11, 2014

Whinlatter Extreme Duathlon - Actual date 6th April 2014

So,  the last one of these dates didn't go too well for me. My plan with much longer and rangier (hillier) Extreme Du was firstly survival followed by setting off at my own slow pace, enjoying the bike ride then finishing off with a slow jog.

With such a small field I was soon jogging along the path with only one other person to keep me company and I soon let him go at the first discernible slope in favour of a walk. I did run the rest of the route... at least until the steep bit which just demanded walking,  even from the front runners who I could see striding along the ridge.  Just before I joined the ridge I stopped to put my coat on to make sure I would have finishers legs by the end.  The change in route meant a great opportunity to wish everyone well travelling in the opposite direction  which was rather nice particularly as some would take it upon themselves to return the favour later.

A cow bell chiming was the first indication of the apex of the first run as there was 10m visibility in the fog. I let them know I was last & set about my descent. I fell on my ass the first time just after I decided consciously not to duplicate someone else's bum-slide... but I did and I laughed about it.  The second time I didn't see it coming.

I passed the man in front who was carefully walking then unceremoniously slid into a full-on wham! onto my ass, landing squarely with my toes bent under my foot and my foot jamming into my thigh.  The first thing that made me yelp was the cramp in my hamstring as I desperately tried to stop myself falling.  The second was the terrifying thought that I had broken something.  I sat for a good long while waiting for the pain to go and to be convinced by the first aider that I was OK. My friend passed by, checking I was all right. I got up and had a walk,  then a gentle run and went to find my bike in transition.

On the way up the hill,  a vision in pink, the first of the retirees walking back to her car.  Not last.
The bike was a relief. My friend was still checking I was OK in transition. We left and I seemed to be able to pedal.  I opted for my Sheffield Tri fleecy jersey,  saving my rain coat for the final run.  I figured I wouldn't get too hot and dehydrate in wet fleece and it probably wouldn't wet out with all the heat I was generating.

I led out my friend into the woods but then let him pass whilst I checked my leg and foot could continue. When he passed I realised he was a dreamer too as he pointed out his favourite bit of the course. "We just go down here and the trees are massive and we just look so tiny". He was right. It was amazing and I watched his yellow coat snaking through the forest into the distance and I relaxed.  Last at last.

At the top of the mountain I started to worry. The rain was driving down and my arms were already wet through.  I swallowed my own virtual balls to descend again and as I did I thought that my tongue felt like it didn't fit in my mouth. Perhaps I was getting ill.  The top of the first mountain is really rocky and I walked a few obstacles just because I am only 2 months away from an Ironman. Other features I just damn well chickened out of. I was getting a bit annoyed at myself for being crap.

I checked the gps and to my disappointment had only done half the distance. Then my lanky figure of a father appeared with the race organiser cheering me into transition. Someone else to ask if I was ok... as if I wasn't doing it enough on my own.  I said,  "not really". Asked if I was going to carry on,  I voiced the plan that had been in my head since I fell, "I'll do the rest of the bike then think about the second run". I was actually thinking of quitting.

Off on the second loop despite a minor navigational fail and a lot of gestures from the marshals.  People were already coming into t2, 12.5km ahead of me and for a moment I mistook the cheers for other people to race against.   There were more members of the public around now but sure enough,  among them was a man sporting a number... even a number from my event. Holy shit! Not last!  For a while he rode with me.

I'd bought new pedals and forgot to ease them off so opted for trying to ride every thing instead of attempting to un-clip. It worked remarkably well and I rode things I never would have expected,  often in a wheelie. It only really fell apart as a plan when my back wheel fell off the edge of a particularly precipitous hairpins and I had to hooft it back on to the trail by the pedal... and still my foot remained engaged.

Boys threw themselves down boulders and crags around me and I just bimbled to the best of my ability, occasionally walking.  This time many climbs were on trails and the familiar switchbacks that I cursed so much in the ice last time were a positive joy to ride. Then it was time for the down bit.

I just about avoided putting my raincoat on.  For every switchback into the wind where I nearly fell off the edge, I got blown downhill in the opposite direction and re-entered the forest for the final descent.  I was shivering by the time I got into transition but I enjoyed the downhill so much I was in a better mood for finishing.  To top off the good feeding I helped myself to a dry woollen baselayer and popped that dry waterproof on over the top of it.

That all made me feel amazing so I set off into the rain.  The runners I'd cheered for earlier were all on their way back to the finish line and one vociferously demonstrated his respect for my tardy slow pace and determination to continue.  The organiser passed the other way on his mountain bike saying, "that's it, just keep that up".  Clearly he appreciated my pacing technique and he reinforced my plan.

I was quite proud of myself not to walk much.  The occasional walk up a steep hill, I was OK with but otherwise I managed a little jog throughout most of the course.  I kept expecting the marshalls on the hill to send me back down out of pity but they respected my ability (insanity?) and I popped out of the forest onto the open fells below Lord's Seat where the wind really picked up.  I walked hunched over to avoid being blown off my feet and grabbed something to eat.  Walkers were highly amused by my running across the hills but we were all in good spirits so I enjoyed my time on the hillside and commenced my descent with some regret to be honest.

I recognised the path down to the finish and the drop-off we'd cycled down back in November last year.  As I looked across the valley, I saw a man walking towards me and to my absolute glee, another runner... no, wait, walker, ahead of me.  I couldn't quite work out if he had a number on but the lanky figure walking towards me was my dad who enthusiastically said, "there's another bloke up there, and he's walking!"

The accelerator pedal went down as far as it could go (not far) and I set off in pursuit of my prey, determined to get to the end of the path before he realised we were nearly finished and sprinted off again.

There was no worry of that for when I reached him he was desperate and accepted the jelly beans I offered him with both hands out-stretched as though they were droplets of liquid gold, accepting "ANYTHING!!"

I hit the main trail and the familiar sight of the sawdust piles which indicate the closing 50m of the race.  I was over the moon not to be last.  The benefits of the experience of pacing and appropriate equipment.  Behind me on the course, my dad was talking the final place finisher off the hillside, getting him to the point where he could see that saw dust pile from where he also started his run in to the finish.

I climbed into the vanu fully clothed, sitting on a blanket to avoid getting the cushions wet and lay back whilst my mum pulled my sodden shoes off my feet.  Not bad pit crew really.

I really enjoyed the Whinlatter Extreme but it totally wiped me out.  I stopped only 30 miles from the race on my way home to have a sleep right next to the A61.  I slept like a baby and didn't want to get up when the alarm went off 25 minutes later.  I limped the vanu home and settled for poor performance from my body for the next two weeks.

What I have to thank the Whinlatter Extreme Duathlon for is excellent stress training.  With the ensuing rest periods I was able to recover and build to strength levels I haven't seen in a while.  I also scared myself regarding my climbing and descending abilities which has led me to do much more hill training over the last few weeks (both off the bike and on the bike) in advance of Celtman.

I like to think this race broke me and re-made me and of all the races I've done this year & previously, this is one I can seriously imagine myself returning to in persuit of those PB thingies everyone seems so keen on.

See you again Whinlatter.

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