Sunday, May 17, 2015

Slateman 2015 Race Report

I stood on the edge of the lake next to one other person. I couldn't hear the crowd of people behind or the commentator or any of the gaggle of yellow-hats bobbing in the water in front of us. I looked at my watch, timing my race entry to perfection. She squelched her feet nervously in the mud. I held my hand out to a complete stranger and said, "together?"

This is Slateman.

We walked into the water, me urging her forwards. Her, dangling from my hand like a faithful yet almost-forgotten teddy bear, both of us being a little soft about our feet on the hard rocks beneath clear slate quarry water. I stepped off the edge, stumbling up to my chest in cold water. I must've been well warmed up because 11 degrees felt like nothing. She babbled excuses about getting in at the last minute but the commentary confirmed it was the last minute and I pulled her forwards, coaching all the time. First slow the breath so the brain works... 35 seconds... now swim... slow the arms down so they work... a last hug and I whisper, "relax, you'll be amazing" in to a stranger's ear and reach the back of the yellow hats as the countdown to the start hits "7".6. 5. 4. 3. 2. 1.


I am not used to seeing my hands, never mind the bubbles that mark others' feet but I can see the calluses on soles and the make of sock people have chosen. I swim to enjoy myself and am amazed to find I am with the group as I exit the water. At a 500m swim it is all out of the way before my fingers have even had chance to separate, though that soon changes in transition as I try to put my socks on.

Having ridden the mountain passes in a coat and fleece the day before I opt to race in knee warmers and a thicker long sleeve jersey so my transition time is Ironman pace. I have changed my pedals so I can revert to cyclo cross mount on the bike. I have already rallied the crowd with the call of, 'hup hup' and I get a few cheers for my efforts. It all slows down from here.

I really enjoyed the hill climb. I have done it once and know to pace myself but also that it's not dreadful and there are some roaring tail winds. A lot of people pass me on the steeps and I pass them back when the gradient eases. Over the top I still feel like I am with the same people except for all the savage athletes who are mental enough to do 2 days of racing this course and are catching me from their wave, 10 minutes behind mine.

I throw myself over the top in the middle of the road, trying to avoid other's nerves and vying for position. It's difficult to apply drafting rules here, that is certain. A mild quantity of breaking for the junction then back on it for some more descending where I decide I need new gears cos I am out of spin while others pedal calmly by.

At the next hill climb I start to see familiar faces and am having one of those, "only me", "me again", conversations with several people.  They're passing me but again, once I get into my rhythm I start passing people back.  Charlotte Jenkinson buzzes me on the climb and I stretch out my hand for a handshake as she passes.  "I won't see her again", I think.

The PenYPass climb eventually levels out at Lynn Ogwen but I'm more focused on doing some damage on the easy bit where everyone else is recovering.  There's a couple of short climbs and then I get to throw myself at the very windy downhill.  I'm so glad I practised this yesterday because I know I can stay on the tt bars so long as the wind isn't any higher.  It's not and I glide down, trying hard to pass someone sitting on the tops of his drop bars and weaving all over the place.  We go around 2 bends with me whispering "on your right" in his ear which seems to encourage him to pedal like mad to speed up instead of pulling over.  I finally glide past behind a faster ride as we turn a 100 degree junction.  I call out to my faster friend to take care on the bumpy road surface.  We've gone from a velvety dream to a pot-holed village nightmare which I reccied yesterday but my fast friend holds his nerve and we pedal on.  I am soon surprised to be giving Charlotte some stick for letting me catch her up.  I only have to wait for the next climb to see her again and the descent off that is not so scary so I have no chances to take back my lead.  The next time I see her will be the finish line.

I've been saving myself for the final climb - the col du petrol station.  It's a perfectly symetrical hill only 150m in elevation but it's at the end of the ride so feels like a 1:5 (actually, bits of it are).  I stopped on it yesterday to buy some Lucozade but today I have to cruise past the petrol station and carry on.  At least I know it's only 2 miles to the finish of the bike and I am glad because the saddle is starting to rattle my bones.

One last flourish jumping off the bike with one toe touching the ground just before my front tyre crosses the dismount line.  Showboater?  Me?

I wish I could say I quickly changed into running shoes but I only removed one knee warmer so have to take one trainer off and put it on again - mainly to avoid looking like a numpty, not really caring about being too warm.  I take my run transition a bit easy with lots of people passing me now.  I'm used to this.  We head down the path past the steam train, thinking we're going to have a classics moment here but the race diverts under the railway bridge as the train passes over head and then we're into the wilderness of... the visitor car park.  It's not exactly inspiring and I'm starting to lose the will to live until we cross the road and start to queue over a small bridge waiting for a gate crossing.  The water beneath looks lovely and deep and I ask if anyone wants a swim.

The chap next to me is passing everyone and chivvying us along.  Another man says, "there's a way to go yet lad".  "We're only running  to the top" he says and we all agree not to laugh too loud when he gets cramp.

It's fast out to the start of the quarry climb and I keep passing the same bloke with cramp as I offer to sell him a gel for £85.  I'm glad he doesn't accept as I need it myself.  I can confirm that ZipVit Rhubarb and Custard flavour is not nice.  The element of taste that is supposed to be rhubarb just tastes chemically.  I think I'll stick to the blackcurrant, though I have got the kiwi one to try.  It still did the trick though I did spend a lot of time running with it in my mouth, not actually consuming it for quite some time because the quarry was robbing me of all of my efforts.

The quarry has a time trialled section which I decided to do my best on.  I knew I stood little chance of achieving anything but wanted to see what I could do and assumed (foolishly) that the rest of it was downhill.

I played tag with a bloke wearing a number that said he was called Grant.  I walked a couple of sections and was distraught to be passed on a hill climb by a woman from Norwich Tri club.  I finally crossed the mat at the top next to the big guy in the forest who said he was just running to the top.  Clearly his lift down hadn't shown up and he was walking out a cramping hamstring.

I ran on and passed two girls with a birthday cake singing happy birthday to each other and a couple of climbers considering an E8 route up a slab in the quarry.  These little things that you take in to relieve your mind of the pain.

The down hill didn't worry me except for the bits where it went up again.  I was capitalising on what little competitive advantage I have of being a confident descender but Grant and a few others kept catching me back - especially on a stretch of concrete road which suddenly went up at 1:5 for 50m.  There were a lot of us walking that and a lot of people still running.  Down the other side of it and we nearly had to run over the top of a Nissan Micra clawing its way out of the valley.  To be honest it would've been easier to run over than run around.

Finally we crested a small hill and heard the distant commentary in the valley.  A lady passed me and I passed her back a few seconds later on what I could see was the last short climb of the day.  This was my sprint.  I sat behind Grant, joking with her that "poor Grant, I have been dogging him all day." Then quickly went on to explain that I didn't mean that in a sexual sense - just the old fashioned meaning of the word.  Greg said he was too knackered to do anything about it anyway so we should all just forget I said that.

There's about 600m of cruel road and solid track at the end of the run.   A short hill climb where some very enthusiastic supporters had cleverly camped out to cheer everyone up the climb and on to the finishing straight which is a long gravelled path.  You cross the railway line and suddenly get hit by a wall of noise - spectators cheering us home.  I admit I had to choke back a wave of emotion.  My legs were feeling it and I had given this race a good go.  I didn't see but heard Andrew shout me and I surged for the finish.  I was momentarily aware of someone sprinting alongside me so sped up well out of my comfort zone for the last 3 metres.  It wasn't really worth it as he was in a different wave but there again, showboating.

I did several laps of the finish area before allowing my legs to stop.  Marshalls were trying to catch my timing chip and I had to remember to eat food and chase down my finisher's slate.  Priorities.

There were 59 in my age category and I rocked in 26th.  I was 91st woman of 180 - narrowly missing out on the first half by one place.  With many more men taking part though, I was 889th overall of 1216.

Swim - 13:46 763rd - 93rd female - 27th FV40
Bike - 1:55 825th (shocker) but - 65th female - 19th FV40 - YESSS! Top third.
Run - 1:17:50 862nd - 95th female - 31st FV40

Turns out I was 65th woman on the climb up through the quarry and 20th FV40.  I was 737th overall - my best positioning throughout the whole race, despite the run being my worst overall position.

We retreated to the tipi to change and check out.

 I have pre-registered for next year.

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