Sunday, July 03, 2016

Kielder Klosure

I instantly fell in love with the Kielder Ironman when we arrived at the Shepherd's hut we stayed in for the weekend.

We arrived on Friday night and cooked a simple meal on the simple cooker then walked round the corner to the simple pub for a drink.  It was bliss.  It was quiet.  And when we got back it was midgey but we didn't care.

I did the dishes looking out of my tiny galley kitchen window at lambs in the field.  I could hear them bleating.

Before bedtime, we browsed the visitor's guide and a short walk was described from the Hut to the "Damn Wall" (herein to be known as "that damn wall".  With due expressionful hint on the *Damn* - the point of mile 16 in my marathon and location of the first aid station on the run course).

The mattress was a poor fit for the bed frame (only down side), making somewhat banana-shaped so I slept on the floor on good quality child mattresses provided (neatly stashed under the bed in the daytime).

I had the best pre-ironman sleep ever.  On Saturday I'd been out for a gentle spin on my bike and a rewarding short run up to that damn wall and back in glorious sunshine.  Life was good.  We registered, where we met the very nice Paul Dipankar from India who we later discovered had entered the race "in passing" as he and his wife were cycling around the world.

We bought food from the shop.  It turns out the water park shop is better than anything in the local villages - even for fresh food as well as the usual deli boutiquey nutrition.  I packaged it into two separate drop bags, got briefed, had a laugh and headed back to the hut to cook more for dinner.

At bedtime there was a certain amount of staring at the ceiling but I think I'd exercised enough demons during the day for me to get to sleep quite well.

In the morning I did wake up before the alarm, crawled across the floor to the tiny bathroom then brewed up porridge and coffee which went down pretty seamlessly for 3:30am.

On the drive to the start, we saw a beautiful big wild fox.  Not a scrawny city-fox but a well fed, well coated, bushy tailed lithe fox.  He crossed the road then jumped up onto a wall and into the bracken on the other side.  Then another crossed the road.  Then another, another and wow!  All the foxes are out  The wild life count is high, if not a little dull... ... SHIT! DEER!  A massive buck wheeled out from the curb and skipped across the road in front of the focus.  I braked HARD.  Not so hard as to skid - I didn't get time - but just hard enough to clip its heel with the bumper as we passed.  The deer scooted off, we crapped ourselves.  There was nearly a very different outcome to the day.

It was a lonely start in transition.  I was super early, racked, unpacked then hid in the car from the midges for some goodly time. We watched other people doing silly dances including the poor woman who got to the event and bolted her tri-bars on in the clouds of midges.  We had Smidge with us.  We knew to stay in the car for as long as possible.

I also decided to put my wetsuit on in the comfort of the midge-free toilets which the water sports centre had kindly left open over night.  Me and Sarah from Leeds Tri Club had a good chat about the pro/cons of toilet activity before the race over the partition wall then headed out to brave the day.

I've never been so happy to get into 14 degrees C water before.  The midges were crawling over everything and biting.  Who knew they loved neoprene so much?  They were easy to wipe off the wetsuit, less easy to wipe off the face, hands and my bare ankles.  The disadvantage of being tall is that my bare ankles go most of the way up my calfs.  We all milled about in the water anxious to get going.  It was bliss for around 250m as I was around 3rd in the field then I gradually floated backwards as I failed to swim with any finesse. Whatsoever.

It wasn't helpful that the obvious line went too close to the edge of the lake, making me jump as the ground came up to meet me.

It wasn't helpful that I couldn't see the course all the way around as one of the buoys was out of sight of the shore line.  It seemed to take a lot of time to get out of that inlet and a lot of time to get to the buoy that turned us back towards the shore-line.

We were allowed to take a hot drink after the first lap and I grabbed a hot tea off Andrew.  I looked at my watch in hope of being somewhere near my 38 minutes target.  I was dismayed when 52 looked back at me from the screen.  I had a 2 hour cut-off.  I dived back in as quickly as possible.  The tea kept me going through to the inlet but then I started to feel cold again.  I stopped, desperately trying to let a pee go into my wetsuit to add a bit of warmth but I still couldn't manage it.  A lady kayaker waited patiently and offered me the opportunity to rest at her boat but I didn't dare in case I asked her to tow me back.  I told her I was trying to wee and she made me feel better, saying, "at least you can, I'm stuck in this bloody boat and I need to go".  I offered to swap but she said I couldn't have her boat if I was going to pee in it.  She then gave me some privacy but to be honest I was sorry to see her go.  I still didn't pee.  Off I set, swimming again.

I was a bit pissed off at myself now so the final turn-around buoy came along relatively quickly this time.  Then there was that long 800m stretch back to the exit.  With a 2 hour 15 cut off, I didn't dare look at my watch.  I hadn't come all this way to get timed out at the swim again and don't think I could have gone off on the bike this time facing a DNF.  I probably would have stayed around and raced the standard instead but thankfully, that isn't where my brain was thinking.

I started to "sprint" as best I could for the exit.  It was still 800m away and with few buoys in the water it was very difficult to see which one I was heading for when I sighted.  I wasn't sprinting with any finesse and could actually see the desperate splashes of the woman behind me on the opposite side of the course for a while.

My lady canoeist was back and said something to me which I paused to hear again.

"Just follow me", she said.  Ahhh, my own personal escort.

I directed my splashing towards the back of her kayak and carried on.  I don't think I saw her paddle the entire time.  She must've occasionally dipped a paddle into the water but the rest of the time I was lost in my own dark little world of flailing arms, managed calf cramps and trying to control the cool that was seaping down my armpits.  My spine, however, remained average and I had nowhere near the chronic shivvers that beset me at Celtman.  I was going to make it.  I swam as close to the shore as I could and wobbled out.  Thanked my Kayak Angel and then turned to Andrew.

"Good news Darling, we never have to do this again".

A few people tried to tell me I might change my mind but my mind was already made up.  No more cold water Ironman swimming for me ever again.  I guess I'll never do Celtman - until global warming has really taken a turn for the worst and then it won't be Celtman anymore.  It will be some glorious shadow of the race it once was.

I spent a solid 15 minutes undressing and re-dressing as I was handed a cup of hot chocolate.  The Leeds Bradford Triathlete, Sarah got out behind me.  Proof that Yorkshire women do NOT belong in cold water.

I was happy to get onto the bike to warm up and we pedalled out of transition together, swearing about how cold we were.  We left with 4 minutes to go until cut off time.

I passed her on the first descent, then not surprisingly she passed me back on the next climb.  I was relieved she did because I had the privacy of the road to myself.  I really needed a wee and disappeared into a forest track to get full privacy.  Unfortunately just as my rear wheel disappeared into the bushes, Andrew went past in the car so he completely missed me on the road.

He did, however arrive at the first checkpoint after 20km and so began a long debate about the number of competitors in the field.  Paul Dipankar had failed to finish the swim so they thought they should have 14 competitors so it was a surprise to them that Andrew was waiting for me.  He knew I'd stopped for a pee - even though he didn't notice me.  It wasn't a great concern that there were too many competitors - too many is better than too few.  For a while they thought that the additional person was down to the team racing, but then there was only one person on the bike.  One person was only there to do the swim so that must be them right?  Finally, it was matched that Paul had gone on to do the bike (with the organiser's blessing) but a lack of phone signal meant that it took a while for the message to get through.

I was told that Sarah was about 15 minutes ahead so I spent a lonely few hours trying to catch her.  Was I going too fast?  Probably.  Was I enjoying myself?  Hell yes.

There would be a lesson learned here that I can't feel the HRM alarm on my wrist watch and therefore need to do long races with the HRM on my chest so I can see it on the bike computer but since I'm not doing another Ironman, it's irrelevant.

The course had been altered so took us over Steele Road which I thought was incredibly apt for an Ironman course.  Whilst I thought this might involve some extra and steep climbing, it was a beautiful road approximately one-car wide with a good proportion of twists and turns but a relatively good road surface.  It cruised through open lowland fields then the small village of Steele Road before ambling through some woodlands and more fields / stream systems and arriving back on the B6399 to head North to Hermitage.  Before you're horrified by a single track road, know that there were 15 competitors on the course and I didn't see one car on this road the whole time.

Hermitage is a small collection of houses - as it name suggests - and one shop.  It was too close to Newcastleton for us to visit on our recce and it would have made an excellent tea stop - but sadly not for an Ironman race.  I carried on along the B road which climbs up past a railway museum before dropping down to a distinctive limestone quarry.  As I climbed along the river, looking up to the railway line and ageing carriage-stock ahead, I spotted my first "victim" of the day, the lady ahead of me.  Not Sarah from LBT but Kathryn from Salisbury Tri.  It took me an age to catch her (I actually thought I had imagined her) but finally did so on the descent to the quarry.  We checked eachother was OK then I descended ahead, Rosie Red doing her best in the head-wind of the long descent.

The quarry was the only bit of scary road with sharp stones and rubble on the road from the lorries and at that point on a tt bike you're doing 35 miles per hour but I survived it once and only had to survive it again once more.

Post-quarry, the road climbs again into upper moorland.  The "roadworks" were still there.  Two traffic cones in a missing manhole cover (in the verge) and a "road narrows" sign in both directions.  Classic Scotland.

I love the big open climb to the unnamed road which passes from near Stobs Castle to Bonchester Bridge.  Highland coo munched at me from fields the other sides of the stone walls.  There was a van parked in front of the sign and I expected encouragement from a dedicated marshall but actually, the van must've belonged to the farmer and was occupied by nothing more than a bail of silage.

I swept into the turn and continued to climb although this is a deceptive incline and actually I more kind-of "flowed" up it.  Over the top where in May we'd watched an off-the-lead dog worrying sheep in the field on the opposite side of the road proving that even this far into the wilderness, people can be dicks.  Later our spirits had been lifted by a man out for a ride with his young son who had tried to race us for a bit as we passed.
(not on the day)
At Bonchester Bridge I made the turn, down a steep and screechy hill where the proprietors of the pub had claimed they weren't open for business on Easter weekend.  Their car park was still empty and I am not surprised.  Then up the other side - the steepest climb of the day and thanks to the change of course, now on the route twice.

Once that was dispensed with, it was a short ride to the longest climb of the day - the col du Hell's Hole.  Not so bad the first time around.  I had memories of our 12 mile tt back to Newcastleton last time on empty bellies and desperate for food.  This time I was doing the math of how far it was back to Saughtree and TSK and some more water for my bottles.  8 miles.  Bugger, it keeps going up for quite some time past the B&B that the pub-lady sent us to in search of food and then up again until finally the gradient eased and I ripped down the other side, taking care not to come a cropper on the cattle grid that race control had so carefully described.  It sounded HORRIBLE when I passed over it but it was pretty safe.

I filled up at Saughtree and laughed at TSK.  He had managed to procure a clip-board from race control and was now all caught up in race administration.  He still helped me out with water and on I went back to base to start lap 2, telling him that I was probably going to slow down a bit and being warned, as I departed, not to slow down too bloody much!

The road to base was hillier on the way back but there was a bit of a tail wind at least.  I ripped along side the river through the woodland and back into England for around 18 km.  There are a number of climbs over inlets to the reservoir - all bridges I knew I'd be running under later.  I got to see some of the other competitors heading back out on their second lap.  Paul was understandably muted in his cheering as he was effectively riding a DNF but nevertheless gave me a wave from his touring bike as he sped the other way.

I watched the man ahead of me leaving the water park as I was returning but this didn't stop me hanging around a bit too long at race control, deciding what to eat, stocking up and hugging Ruth Marsden who was terribly terribly excited for me and made me feel absolutely wonderful.  It took two people to peel an orange and I stuffed it into my mouth as fast as I could, spitting out pips and washing it down with a cheese roll (trust me, I needed something savory)!!

Off I went again.  This time, climbing a bit slower.  I settled into lap 2 but I was starting to suffer.

The road out of England was much steeper the second time around and it was surreal riding along it at mid day.  It seemed so different to at 8:30.  Now brighter, more lively with people and insects.  The animals were awake and chudding, not just sleeping, covered in dew.

I reached Saughtree again and TSK said he was going to head back to transition to wait for me there but I begged him not to as I felt I might need something before the last 20km.  Maybe even a lift!

Steele Road was just as lovely the second time around.  I exchanged a nod with a man mowing his lawn, probably wondering why we were cycling past his house again.  The climb up to the railway museum was fine really.  My biggest achievement being figuring out how to silence my Garmin that was busy telling me just how much slower I was than the fastest person who has been up this segment.  Bloody IT updates.  They get you everywhere!

This was the first time I saw Simon. Simon is a member of the High Terrain Events team and follows me around at the back of most of their events shouting encouragement at me.  I'm not used to seeing him in a car but there he was, shouting encouragement at me from a little blue VW Golf.  Little did I know that Kathryn had quit at the end of lap 1 and I was now last.  Simon was, effectively, taking the course down behind me.  Still, his encouragement was very welcome and I had a few more hours to go of meeting him yet.

The big open climb over to Bonchester Bridge was even more beautiful this time.  The skylarks were singing and the weather just started to cool a little.  When I got out the water on the swim I had put on my favourite England jersey which is kinda fleecy on the inside and I had been rolling the sleeves up and down all day.

My legs were starting to get stiff now and to keep them spinning and really get the blood moving around my body I sang Christina Aguilerra's "Beautiful", complete with all warbles.  It makes me breathless and gets my heart rate up.  I know, I'm shit at it but no-one was there to hear me except a few moderately moved sheep.  I desperately hoped Simon wouldn't chose that moment to pass me again in the car.  Thankfully, I had the hill to myself and the next time I saw him was on the climb out of Bonchester Bridge where I was also being entertained by a classic car rallye going the other way.

Onto the Hell's hole climb again.  Now I was digging deep and Simon and Helen came past in the car at just the right moment to give me a good 5 minutes of trying to look in possession of my road and my bicycle.  As soon as they were out of eyesight I stopped hamming it up and twiddled my way over the top.

Over that bloody cattle grid again.  This time it dislodged my Torq bottle from the cage.  I wasn't going to lose that one so stopped in the layby to recover it before whooshing on to a max speed of 42mph on the descent and a bottle fill at Saughtree - half of which I then dumped, realising I wouldn't need it all for 20km, especially since it was starting to rain quite persistently now.

What I actually needed was savoury food.  I started raiding my pockets.  Flapjack! Yes! I love Ruth Marsden.  I ate that.  What else was in there?  The rest of the cheese roll Yes!  That went down.

I was all out of food but it wasn't too far to transition and I only had those awful rollers to get over to get back to T2.  I kind of hoped I'd see some runners on the course so at least I'd have someone to cheer but instead there was just Simon, pulling up alongside in the car to remind me to take it easy on the S-bends through Kielder village as the road would be slippery when wet.  Then they backed off and carried on with taking the course down behind me.

Back at T2 10h 24mins into the day.  I had eaten myself another hour before cut-off time.

Well.  Everyone had gone.  My buddies had gone (had to get back home of course) and the other athletes had gone and anyone sensible had gone.

Paul's wife was running the marathon which was a real shame because with the lady who only did the swim, they could have had a team to compete with the one other team registered for the race.

The only people that were there were TSK and a soggy race crew from High Terrain Events.

They fussed around me like a special child, offering me drinks and food but I had my stash and I ploughed through some stuff (can't remember what now) and a real coffee that TSK brought me.  The photographer took some pics and came for a chat.  I sat in my dry robe under the gazebo of food and drink and focused.

I was going to say "sulked" but there really wasn't any question of me not running the marathon.  I knew I could run.  I guess I really had to come to terms with the fact that I'd made it this far.  I wasn't sure I'd finish the swim under my own steam and then after the late start on the bike, I wasn't sure if I'd get around that in time either.  The run actually hadn't appeared on my radar until now.

TSK's legs, ever present in the sidebar.
Could I run all the way?  I didn't know but I wasn't going to go home without finding out.  I knew that.  I wasn't looking forward to the pressure of the cut-off times but I was looking forward to the running bit so eventually I changed in to dry clothes (praise-be!), packed my rucsac (water bladder, rain coat, foodette) and set off, with a smile and a wave to the photographer as I left with the news that the next person ahead left around 10 minutes before I arrived back at base.  There was little point in me chasing what was probably, by now, a 30 minute gap.  I just had to pace myself to a finish.  I had 6 and a half hours to do what I hoped would be sub-six hours and dreamed may be faster than my previous Ironman marathon time of 5 hours 44 at Forestman.

I started off running everything.  I was on familiar territory as I had run this section on my way back from Edinburgh in April.  The gates were open on the footpath which was nice.  My main worry had been stopping to open those gates.  As you know, all triathlon race disciplines include a wee-stop and the Kielder run was no exception.

TSK said he was going to accompany me on the bike around the lake.  He knew I wouldn't want company all the way round as I love the solitude of running alone and so he offered to ride ahead every 5-6km and wait for me to check I was OK.  This meant I had to wait until he had passed then took a perch on a tree to empty my bladder of the spoils of the bike ride.  Of course  that meant I spent the next 5km pulling moss out of my shorts but so be it.  It's amazing where it gets when you run with a mossy bottom!

I walked my first hill climb at Matthew's Inlet.  I knew it was a big one although I still felt like cutting the corners on the downhill.  Andrew waited to watch me cross the bridge but I managed to sneak by him and was too taken by looking at the sculptures in the river to notice him looking down from above anyway.

He cruised on to the viaduct at the Northernmost end of the course and continued my run back under the road and through the woodland back to the carpark where I had parked for my first recce run in minus 4 degrees and clear sunshine, 2 months earlier.

At some point here my watch died.  I was tracking it all on my bike Garmin too although the battery on that died later on in the evening.

(not on the day)
I expected to see TSK playing in some of the buildings and out-looks on the lake shore and my heart rate elevated as I ran by, expecting him to jump out from behind a tree at any moment but he had progressed to the Viaduct to wait for me there and, once I'd passed the water point, used the water to give his bike a quick wash.  There would be no more competitors and it saved the organisers the job of emptying the water containers.

The bit after the viaduct was known to me from our Easter Recce although in the falling rain it was more beautiful than before.  As TSK passed me I muttered some news I remembered from earlier in the day - I extended our wildlife count to an Osprey in a tree and a baby hedgehog on the Steele Road.

He rode on.  I ran on.  I was right.  This was one of the more beautiful sections of the run.  The presence of the artwork like the Silvas Capitalis and the Janus Chairs kept me interested.  I saw TSK again at the Janus chairs as he went to take a seat but, unlike my Easter solo expedition, they were wet and unwelcoming.

The next section beyond where I had run before was undulating along a sandstone hard-packed trail. I had been checking my bike Garmin to monitor my speed progress, convinced that I was keeping a reasonable speed because the average shown on the screen would see me to a 5 hour marathon.  However, I luckily was lucid enough to realise that I wasn't running a consistent 5 hour pace.  Possibly I was on the flats / downhills but on the up hills my Garmin was auto-pausing (a setting I usually use so that my watch doesn't run whilst I sit at traffic lights in the city).  The average speed was skewed on the fast side so actually, my average speed was probably much slower as the Garmin would occasionally see my uphill walking pace as stopped.

I changed the settings and made a concerted effort to start running some of the less-steep climbs.  Sure enough, my average speed tumbled to a more likely number.  Now I had to re-do the maths to check whether I was due to arrive at the cut-off point on time.  In theory I could still make it although I couldn't help cursing a little for being so lazy with my very valuable time.

The undulations of sandstone soon gave way to the forest again.  Truly my favourite bit of the run.  By now, my skin was soaked.  My wet teeshirt nothing like the Magaluf bar legends.  Wool really is an excellent insulator - even when wet, 11 miles into a marathon.  TSK had passed.  The only sound was the hiss of the rain on pine needles and the gentle trickle of streams running down into the reservoir.  It was like a poorly tuned TV sound but the visual was stunning.  Deep greens, vivid brown and intense blacks through the pine with the angry grey skies and waters of the lake.  I dropped my arms and ran with my fingers in Gyan mudra for as long as I could, just soaking up the place.  Its water, its air, its aroma... its fire.

I needed another wee.

I needed a safe place for a wee.  I ran past a few more art installations.  I'd never been this far before.  The cubes are made of different materials - plastic, aluminium, glass.  Cirles, squares, rectangles.  The brass discs jangled in the wind.  The corrugated aluminium hummed in the wind.  I loved it.  Then there was a hut.  A hut with a step.  A step that faced the bracken and heather and nothing else.  It was even far enough away from Leaplish that no-one could focus on me with even the best camera or binoculars.  I sat on the step and had a wee - the rain quickly washing away anything that was landing on the ground.  There was no-one around and there would be no-one until later the next day by all accounts.  I hadn't seen a soul (except Andrew) since I left Leaplish 3 hours ago.  My little widdle turned into gushing masses of wee.  I felt a stone lighter.  Then a small pleasure craft carrying around 6 people chugged around the headland into view followed by aonther small pleasure craft carrying around 5 more people. FFS!  Of all the moments!

It reminds me of the "Day in the Lakes" race two years ago when, "Eventually, a suitable rock outcrop presents itself and I descend into the grass to momentarily flash my bits to the other runners and the Ullswater steamer trundling up the lake 200m below me."

I quickly pulled my shorts back on bringing an abrupt end to my final rest stop of the race.

The next time I caught up TSK he said I had 13 km to go to that *Damn* wall.  He'd wait for me in 5.5km then 6.5km.  Good, I knew he would have chance for some shelter from the toilets there - though in retrospect they probably weren't open at that time of night.  At least he'd have some company.

It was at this point he told me that the organisers had offered to send someone around the reservoir to make sure I was safe - sweep up after me so to speak.  TSK had said I wouldn't like that and that he had been prepared to ride around anyway so that's what he would do.  For all of the pain I had suffered alone, he is right.  I really wouldn't have enjoyed it as much with a stranger chuntering at me all the way around.  Worse still, I might have felt forced to run faster at the beginning and therefore burn myself out before the end.  I would've finished but I would've been in a mess sooner and potentially slower overall.  Most of all, I would have felt more self-conscious about sitting down for a wee in full view of the lake.

I don't recall the 5.5km meet.  I was clearly enjoying myself or more likely I was doing maths.  By now, both Garmins had packed in and I had no idea whatsoever the time was.  I had to make a 9:30pm cut off at the Damn wall.  I calculated the time based on my average and the distance I knew I had left from what TSK told me.  I factored in fatigue and stops and at the same time, had a battle with food.  Unlike Forestman, this time I was craving sweet not savory food so I was raiding my rucsac for gels.  I couldn't find any so the nougat I bought from the Leaplish store came out instead.  Though I had no water to wash it down with as I suddenly seemed to have drunk it all.

Still, I persevered, working out in my head, now, how long it was to get to the *damn* wall for water.  When all that was done, I worked out what I would do if they cut me off at the Damn wall.  I decided I'd just say, "yeah OK".  No arguments, no tears, no plea for a stay of execution.  I'd just accept it, climb in a van and get home.


I wasn't ready to quit.  I wasn't ready to not do this.  I wasn't ready to fight for it... but I wasn't ready to DNF it either.  I'd just have to make sure I ran fast enough to get through the cut off.  It wasn't really because I wanted to finish the race.  It was because this was supposed to be my second and last Ironman.  THIS ONE.  I didn't want to have to do another one!  I had to finish!

I started running.  E V E R Y   F U C K I N G   T H I N G.

I could see the *Damn* wall for about 3 miles before I got there.  Cruelly, you then have to run THE longest inlet known to man and for once it didn't help that I could see TSK riding up the other side and into the distance.  It was a grinding distance.  Finally 1.5 miles later you can't just see the *Damn* wall but you can see the edge of the shoreline all the way up to it and a wall, with happy, smiling people on the other side.

Now, part of my plan for not getting timed out was to look GOOD here.  I figured that at least if they were thinking of timing me out and I show up looking all "WEYHEY!" and bubbly then they might relinquish and let me continue.  (I still was perfectly prepared to crawl in the back of that Van though).

There was whooping from Simon as I rocked up to the food table.

"What time is it?", I screamed.

"Quarter past!" They said.

"Quarter past WHAT?!?!?". 8.  Now 1 hour 15 up on cut-off.  COOL!

The water bladder came out of my rucsac and was half full - mostly it had been blocked by something in the bag.  The food under the table looked soggy.  My own baggie was not really tempting.  My wet wool teeshirt seemed a better option than the dry tech tee in the bag which would be wet again just as quickly and probably chaffe.  Changing my socks really wasn't an option!.  So on I went.  I took the Doritoes though I think partly out of a suspicion I'd need salt and partly I felt responsible for them being stood about in the rain with my stuff for 4 hours.  I ate three and then discarded them in a local waste chute (TSK's mouth).

"I'm going to start waiting every 4km" he said.  This was good news for me.  I enjoyed our little exchanges on the course - they kept me going.

"Mainly because I'm getting cold waiting so long for you", he said.  Now I felt bad.  I better start running a bit more.

So there I was, running across the *Damn* wall.  It was still daylight - Just. It was still raining - so what?  I ran all the way across it, through the park on the other side and back into the woods.  I had 10 miles to go.

All the hills I had walked earlier came to me at a jog now.  I needed to do two things a) finish b) keep TSK  warmer.  He came past me and I told him that if there were any more shelters that weren't on-distance, we was to use them to stay warmer.  He set off ahead.

The next few miles were peppered with encouraging cheers from Simon and the team as they again waited for me to pass at the few little lane-crossings and areas where the path ran through car parks where I might have found myself lost in the fading light.  Then they took the race signs down behind me and finally headed back to base again.

For a while I ran alongside the road, although on the opposite side of a large verge and a few trees.  It was kind of comforting to have it there with a very occasional passing car and it did at least feel like I was nearly back.

I started to pay attention to the signage now as each crossing was marked with distance markers in great detail of kms and fractions thereof.  I knew that the biggest climb of the course was at 20 miles - a killer 275m elevation.  I tried to calculate how long it would take me to get there and anticipated its arrival and then... back to walking.

It did indeed snake up the hillside through the woods in s-bends - more alongside Bull Crag Peninsula than over it - but I stomped at it, swung over the top and then gave myself a break and walked a bit down the other side.  I was so glad I'd memorised this bit of the route on the toppo because I knew that after the downhill there were 4 miles to go and then the hill climb returned again briefly before dropping down again to 3 miles to go.  So when TSK came past me and told me "7 remaining", I had a short panic attack before realising he meant km.  That was only 4 miles.  I was still so spent.

(not on the day)
He went on ahead and I popped out onto a track.  It was set back from the water and quite exposed in that the trees were only small.  A breeze was now racing across the hillside and for the first time in this rain storm, I actually felt cold.  No hesitation, time to put the coat on that I had been carrying since Leaplish and got out the nougat again.  The track, although exposed, was quite enjoyable and then tarmac appeared from somewhere.  Oh no, I couldn't cope with tarmac.  The whole thing had been so damn lovely.  I walked the tarmac.  Surely this next inlet would be it - we would be back.

I got my hopes up when I saw a roof through the trees ahead. Was that Leaplish?

Sadly, no, it was a ski jump at the waterski club.  Looking eerily like a drowned shed in the fading light.  More walking to process my disappointment.

TSK came back to me early.  Did I want him to wait again?  I was nearly back.  No, I said, go ahead and sort yourself and the car out so that when I get back I can just pour myself into the car and go.  He set off down the trail leaving me to battle past Otterstonelee burn alone.  I had run here in April and yet at the time I did not register it all so as I entered the forest for the last time I was having a bit of a panic that I still had to run past the giant toadstool (I mean who wouldn't notice that, right?) and still had to run past the "Squirrel hides" and it was oh so far from there.  Still, it wouldn't be would it because TSK would have said something.

Looking back, at that time, running through "Squirrel hides" was exactly what I was doing with its hide and its squirrels.  What I forgot was that Squirrel hides" is only about half a mile from Leaplish, not 9 miles away (from the car park I used back in April).

So there I was, expecting some kind of big fanfare announcement of the arrival of Leaplish through the trees.  A distant view of the boats bobbing on the lake.  But here I was again, plunged into the depths of the trees.  To darkness.  It was 9:30pm.  Light was good till 10:30pm but in the fading light and the dense forest it was dark so I walked.

I walked to avoid tripping over a tree root in the darkness.  I'd told TSK to go ahead so there would be no-one back to find me for a while if I tripped over a tree root and injured myself and the risk of injury here was incredibly high.  All the muscles I usually use for running were spent some time ago and I'd now over-strained all the minor stability muscles that I never knew I had, just... keeping.... going.  My biceps were like violin strings and they were singing a soul-less G minor note in the passing breeze.  My elbows had been crooked at the same angle for 5 hours.

Eventually a white light came threading through the trees.  Thankfully I realised it wasn't St Peter but TSK coming to provide me some back up lighting.  I had one question for him, "Are we nearly there yet?"

Not far.

There was walking and there was some jogging and when I say jogging I mean, old lady running.  Bent over at 45 degrees to vertical, feet shuffling, arms barely moving but locked at a 40 degree angle.  Head bobbling about on top of a wobbly spine.

With every light that appeared by the side of the path, every man-made strucutre, "Is that it?" no it's a hut.  "Is that it?" No it's a water treatment plant.  "Is that it?"

Yes.  That... is... it.

The first thing I saw were the fairy lights on the trees.  Beautiful.

Just keep going.  Across the carpark, up the slippery grass slope and give the race controller a big soggy hug.  Simon, Paul, Ian. All cheering.  I was home.

Amazingly, no major collapse over the line.  Just business to attend to.  I set off to get my bag then Ian showed up with the most precious thing.  My medal.  My glorious Ironman medal.  I said I was going to get it framed then offer a prize to the person who came up with the best "never again" sign.

They took our picture in rain.  Such a great photo which captures everything about us and also obscures my knobbly knees with a big rain drop.

Dry robe on and checked the kit area for bits then over to the car, wet clothes off and the relaxing drive back to the Hut.  No wildlife this time, thankfully.

In the absence of shoes or any desire to put my sodden feet into any shoes I padded uncomfortably barefoot through the wet grass, over the stone slabs which slooshed in the mud and into the hut.  The earth beneath my feet felt so alive.  I felt alive but similarly, close to death.

TSK put the pizza boxes into the oven to warm and I set myself in the shower.  Gradually moving from standing to sitting with an ironic feeling that I was getting washed down the plug hole as I fought the steady flow of water across the fall of the massive shower tray in that tiny little bathroom.  After all the cool outdoor water, it was nice to be rinsed free of the remaining sweat (mostly in my hair under my hat as my body had been washed clean all evening by the rain).

I mostly crawled out of the shower straight onto my floor matresses and ate my pizza before lying back to sleep soundly.  So so soundly.

Swim: A shocking 1:55:00. 2:11:34 (inc T1)
Bike: 8:46:08 (inc T2)
Run: 5:33:54

Overall 16:31:36

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