Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Inaugral "Legend" Half Triathlon at the Snowdonia Triathlon Festival

Plas y Brenin National Mountaineering Centre is truly a wonderful place. With an almost perfect view of Snowdon, a bar, restaurant and £70 a night for comfortable beds and hallways decorated with epic images.  Make it the registration, transition and start line for a triathlon and I am SOLD! Right there! Sign me up!

5.30am is never a sociable hour but it's better than 3.30am Iron-o'clock and thanks to Plas y Brenin I had absolutely nowhere to get to except the bottom of our stairs for registration. I then slipped out to the bike shed to number Rosie Red and check the bolts were tight from the headset changed last week.

I got my number on in my room then returned to the bike lot with my kit, sidestepping officials as the bike shed exited straight onto transition. Set up done it was time to get my wetsuit half-on then walk over a small pedestrian bridge for the race briefing at the start.

Wiping the midges off, we all reassured each other of the viability of the task ahead. I squeezed my vest on under my wetsuit to play it safe in 16 degrees water then got myself in at the last minute as usual. I  was pretty proud of myself for making less girlie noises than some of the men then set about trying to keep up with someone,  anyone, during the swim.

Unfortunately most around me seemed to be really poor sighters… or maybe it was just me? I couldn't bring myself to swim in a massive loop just for the benefit of sitting on someone's feet so I stuck to my line and ploughed on alone… aware that there were always people off to my right.  Maybe they were enjoying the benefits of a lighter current nearer the shore but still, I was keeping pace and not getting left behind as I swam my straight line.

The group came together at the first buoy then they looped out again and I continued on my straight path.  I  did start to doubt that I had the energy for two laps but as I reached the end of the first, I still felt good and actually sped up a bit.

The pattern continued until towards the end of the lap when I started to catch up some big guys.  They were a bit of a distraction and started to put me off getting out of the water... or at least it seemed to take longer than necessary.

Eventually I was there.  I hit the lap button at 47 minutes.  EXACTLY the time I had expected for my first lap at Kielder Ironman. Galling but that's low temperatures for you.

The run into transition was horrible under foot with my feet suffering a combination of numbness brought on by extreme pain (or vice versa). Once back at my bike I stood on my neighbour's towel (long since gone) for some respite from the gravel while I managed a pretty decent exchange of shoes (ahhh the relief), addition of a jersey plus pocketed water proof and grabbed food.

TSK was apparently just setting off out of the bike hut with his ride to see me disappear off down the road.

The first half of the ride passed mostly without incident. The pleasant passing of the climb to the top of the Nant Gwynant Pass then the ride down to Beddgelert. The descent where I was glad I had a dry layer on to keep my shoulders warm in the cool shade. It was, after all, still only 8.30 am.  At Kielder I had only just been getting out of the lake.

Here there will be a picture - paid for but not yet delivered

There were some typical Welsh country lanes and then we slithered down to the coast to make our way around the housing and industrial estates on the edge of Portmaddog before the real climbing started.  Thankfully at Tremadoc I found my perfect race loo and nipped  into the pebbledashed luxury public toilets in the car park. Ample bike parking inside, no people so I could keep an eye on Rosie Red through the open door and most importantly, an adequate supply of paper. As soon as I stopped my glasses fogged without the breeze to clear them leading to a slightly blurred and seedy view of the world.

I rode the very steep hill climb out of Tremadoc with my glasses on the end of my nose, glad I didn't have to stop for a train on the crossing half way up.

It had been a quiet and lonely start to the bike with a few swimmers weaker than me passing early on and then no-one to chase.  A few big climbs started to turn things around though.  When I reached the climb around the back of the Slateman quarry I was joined by Nick from Macclesfield.

I caught him on the climb approaching Maentwrog and then he passed me back saying I would catch him when it got steep.

In fact I caught him on the descent on the other side as he stopped to answer the call.

We exchanged places for a while and had a chat going over the next pass through Ffestiniog as he told me that the hard bit was still to come.  This was just after 30 miles and about the first time I saw TSK riding the other way.  TSK insisted that I had done the hard bit but I was less convinced at the time (we still had 530m to go). I was still pleased to have got more mileage in than him. You can't really compare your performance on any one day to a random selection of competitors but husbands make great benchmarks.

Nick promptly left me for dead after that climb. I had him in my sights  for a while and then he disappeared on the lanes approaching  Capel Curig.  Another roadie followed me for a while after he asked what we were racing, he decided my bike was good for a draft into the next town. He turned left as I went right in Bewtsy Coed, wishing me luck for the rest of the day.

One climb to go - a long steep uninspiring open main (for Wales) road. It was  dual carriageway to give trucks a crawler lane. There was insufficient traffic for it to be a problem though and all motorists passed single file. I'd reccied it the night before in the car but I should've realised how hard it would be after 45 miles of riding on the tt bars.
Here there will be another picture, paid for but not yet delivered

For a moment I panicked when I saw a blue track on my garmin, starting to think I had overshot the race HQ but then realised that it was the river way down in the bottom of the valley.

I returned to transition to a spattering of cheers and happy that there were still a few gaps on the bike racks.  I knew I had been slow though and left transition with the stated intention of catching some people up.  TSK was still out on his bike so I stated my intentions to the young man at the water station. I  don't think he was interested.

I took a  backpack with me for the run. I was still in Ironman mode, not sure how warm it would be, so had plenty of water and I wanted a coat in case it got wet and windy. I doubt I was slower for it and was definitely faster for being able to sip constantly from my water instead of gulp from aid stations then run dry until the next one.  It's personal choice and many would disagree with my approach but some of those people are the the ones I pass gulping water at aid stations or suffering cramps from dehydration.

I hadn't really reccied the run and had only taken a cursory glance at the map.  As far as I was concerned it went up and down a valley. The map showed some kind of a  loop at the end but I assumed this was part of the sprint race happening on the same day.

All I knew was we went out of transition and turned right.  This led to  big flight of around 30 steps all the way up to the road. Argh! Down to walking speed already. An enthusiastic marshal cheered me up the steps as I grumbled about the cruel beginning.

Across the road and onto trail proper.

A beautiful open track. Rocky but solid and suitable for trail shoes rather than fell shoes.  I was glad it was dry because my shoes can be a bit slippy in the wet. I was a little disheartened by the absence of any other people in sight for me to catch and was still feeling a little tired from last week's fell race. I  had another short walk to get used to being on my feet up the first short sharp climb and then started jogging.

The route ran on the opposite side of the river Afon Llugwy up to Llyn Ogwyn below Tryfan.  A beautiful looking road on the other side of the river, I kept one eye out for TSK on his way back from his ride but mostly I was looking where I was going, navigating between the rocks, grassy tufts and occasional cow.

After 1 mile I was properly woken up by the first athlete running back down the hill towards me.  I gave him a high 5. Actually a very British, discreet, low 5. And I wished him good luck. He had a remarkable lead, in fact I started to wonder if everyone else had got lost but eventually second place arrived with a group of around 5 behind including the first woman who got a lot of cheers from me.

I counted the rest of the women in until I forgot where I was counting and chose not to give duff information out.

Across open moorland now. I could see a steady stream of runners coming in towards me but still no one going in my direction. Still, the on-comers were giving me plenty of encouragement if they weren't wearing the face of pain too much.

The route undulated a little then rose to the main road at the Lynn Ogwen. The aid station offered me a drink but I thanked them and kept going. On the road I passed Nick from Macclesfield coming the other way so I knew I was getting near to the turn around point. There were now a stream of people I had recognised off the bike.

I was slightly uncomfortable not knowing where the turnaround point was, reminding me that a little knowledge of the route goes a long way - even for events you're just doing for a giggle because you switched your entry from another event only 5 months earlier and you only chose this event only because its monetary value matched that of the event you withdrew from.

At the top of the hill, the road dropped slightly then the course turned into a carpark for the Tryfan tourist path. A marshal was standing on the wall trying to look as bright yellow as possible guiding us around the wall and hoping that we would be able to run around the masses of hill walkers congregating to tackle Wales's Most Impressive (though not biggest) peak.

Around the wall it was time to retrace my steps, slightly alarmed to find there were more people with me in their sights than I had realised.

I took a glance at my watch. It said 1:02! I was on for a sub 2hr half! Hang on, I thought, that would mean it's short. I decided that the race organiser would have some trick up his sleeve. Still, realising that I was running quite well and was now "on the way back" I could start trying properly. If I had no one to chase I could at least race my own half marathon pb.

Damn that end-of-race heel strike
Back past the water station where I saw Rachel. We'd cheered eachother on when I caught her on the bike. She was stopping for a drink and well on her way to completing her first half Ironman.

Across the moor again then starting the descent. The undulations had been imperceptibly gaining height on the way out and now were opened up before me to view.  Away in the distance I could see two targets running the same way as me.

Brakes off I started a downhill run that many a dark peaker would be proud of, driving up the little hill climbs.  At one point I  thought the lady ahead of me had stopped but in fact she was crossing the stile and had stopped at the top to reverse down climb the steps.  I reached they stile, climbed it, hands on top, swung legs through then vaulted onto the ground and got running. I picked her up just before the campsite then had a momentary panic when I couldn't see any signs and didn't know which strip of tarmac to follow.

Then I recognised a tent that I had been admiring on the way out and carried on the right route being reassured soon after by a piece of striped tape tied to a bush.

Onwards to the next victim who I caught just as the course veered off onto a slightly different approach to the 'village' of Plas y Brenin. This was where the organiser was going to make his distance up, I thought.

Serendipity was shining on me.  I passed a guy walking his bike back to the finish.

He looked at me intently and said, 'straight on the road to the centre, don't turn off!'

I wondered what he could mean.

2 minutes later I knew. There were some red arrows from a previous event pointing down a track to the chapel. I did as instructed, stayed on the road and sure enough was directed by marshals back down those steps to what I thought was going to be the finish. Apparently a few other runners had followed the red sign and, on seeing finishing runners on the other side of the field, had ploughed across the field and a wet river crossing, only to be directed back to the centre, through the car park and back on course, one half mile the worse off.

I didn't check my garmin, I was too busy worrying about a last minute sprint  from someone behind me so it was a big surprise whèn I discovered that I couldn't get to the finish and there was a man offering me a drink. 

By this point they must've had a few confused competitors because his answer to my question, 'where do I finish?' Was, 'you've still got a mile and a half to go'.

Ah. That was the end of my ambition for a sub 2 hour half marathon or even to slip in under 2:06, my time in the Sheffield half marathon last year. Still, I had those other people to stay ahead of, could still get a bloody good time for a hilly off road half marathon and I was facing a massive wall of a climb.

Hands on knees and a spot of yogic breathing. 

A woman and her son cheered me on at the top of the climb. I needed it.

Down the hill on a hard packed trail. The pounding descent ricocheting through my knees but there was someone else plodding along in front, having a little walk.  I passed him. A marshal directed me down a hill to 'do a loop' before getting to the finish. Oh my this race is cruel! For every  downhill I knew I would have to come back up but then there was another person to pass.  Yes! 

A line up of cheery athletes out for a recce  for tomorrow's standard distance cheered me on. 'Thanks I really need that' I said, and meant it. They cheered louder.

Past a sign with a U-turn arrow and the word 'Legend' written on it. The marshal was sitting on the gate cheering.

'I don't know about Legend', i said but I do feel dizzy.  I meant with all the twists and turns but he took me a little too literally and jumped to his feet to administer first aid, as I rapidly explained that I was just kidding and did not need rescuing.

Then that hill climb back out.  I had a few comical exchanges with my fellow runners. It seems many of us were oblivious to the little sting in the tail of this race. I was just relieved, despite the pain, that it wasn't going to be a short race.

I cheerfully waved to the marshal I had just passed  minutes earlier,  knowing it really was all downhill to the finish line now.

As I rounded the corner the standard athletes were there again and cheered at me as I whined, it hurts so much. I was trying to stay ahead of runners I knew were on a blinder, like Ashley who was eating up places. Then I saw the finishing arch.  The big numbers counting down.  Was there some imaginary time line to beat? I hadn't even looked up my last time for a half Ironman. I did slide in under 7 hours but with 10 minutes to spare so no need for a sprint and proving just how annoying my 16:30 time was for Ironman but giving me the satisfaction of actually having raced this distance and not just survived it but enjoyed it .

The array of cakes,energy bars, fruit and drinks available was overwhelming and the little girl giving out teeshirts and momentoes (a rather lovely engraved slate coaster) was struggling to get athletes attention. She was a diligent collector of timing chips and very sweet.

To be able to walk from finish line to bike shed then into my shower in my room was pure bliss. Many other athlete tripped over their shoe laces and fell into the bar, finding themselves drinking a pint of Welsh beer and watching tye sun process across the sky in the late afternoon.

Me, I  had a power nap before checking the results on the off chance I had won a prize. There didn't seem to be many fv40s ahead of me but then we are all pretty young-looking as athletes so I had to cope with a fourth place. I  am extremely proud of that for a race that I wasn't taking that seriously 1 month after Ironman and 1 week after a marathon-esque fell race.

Once I had a chance to recover we joined the bar goers for lunch. Overhearing the winning woman talking about a lady who cheered her on who was wearing a rucksac, I mean, what for??? Shrugs, because we can't all be out there for just 5 hours m'dear. Each to their own.

Can you see Snowdon, just over there, not in the distance in the slightest?
It was a weird twist of events that brought me to do a second half Ironman. Impressive since 4 years ago I said I would never do it again. Looking back at the "Day in the Lakes" I thought I was as fit as I would ever be in my life. 2 Ironman events and 4 years later, though still a back marker, I fared so much better and smashed a splitting 1 hr 25 minutes off my previous time.

It seems that I can't wait until next year's season.

Swim: 42:58 (57th) 1.9 km fair waters. Like swimming in well-brewed (cold) tea.
T1: 5:00
Bike: 3:46:10 (60th!) 56.7 mi, 780m climbing
T2: 2:44
Run: 2:15:56 (52nd) 13.6 mi, 462m climbing

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