Well this isn’t going well. I’m standing in a closed petrol station in the middle of nowhere at midnight after a long delay on the roads, the car has just reminded me that it has 10 miles before I have to put more petrol in and I’ve just called the hotel to let them know that I’m going to be REALLY late to check-in ... and they can’t find my booking. Oh yes and the hotel is fully booked this weekend.
And then it starts raining.
It’s been one of those days. I’d started Friday by having to hastily re-write a marketing essay in a short space of time, get a work assignment completed and submitted within an hour, pack for a race and pick up my 7 year old from school and drop her off 70 miles away in Newbury and and then receive a phone call an hour later, while on my way to Wales to say I hadn’t given my parents her clothes. A quick glance over my shoulder confirms that yes – her case is still in the back seat of the car. Bloody hell.
And now I’m in the rain. In the dark. On my own. I can practically hear the banjos. It’s practically textbook start-of-horror-film. And I bet I’m one of the characters that doesn’t even get a name. Murder Victim 1 or something in the script ...
But then things start to look up. The hotel have found the booking. For TOMORROW but have arranged another hotel to look after me tonight, the petrol station have started dispensing petrol again and I’ve bought about £30 worth of snacks as I missed my dinner about 6 hours ago due to being on the road.
Things always look better on a full stomach I think with the smugness of something driving a car with a full tank of petrol while stuffing another crisp in my mouth.
And then the car starts making a noise that sounds as though at least 3 of its wheels are going to fall off.
It’s 2am. I’m finally in bed at Replacement Hotel. I can see my tri bag with my kit in and my bike Evie is propped up against the wall. I pull the sheets up around my chin and whisper that now I’m finally here the wheels can fall off the car if necessary.
Then Husband announces that he has ALSO been charged for the room as well as them charging my card. Whatever. It’s 2am. I’ll sort it out tomorrow.
|The manic eyes of 'Just Take the Photo Already So I Can Eat My Ice Cream'.|
The next day dawns blue and beautiful. We’re staying in Caernarfon which is beautiful and we decide to explore the old town. There are cobbles and castles and ice cream. It’s far too exciting a place to be staying in the day before a triathlon as the urge to climb all the castle towers and eat all the ice cream is overwhelming. I limit myself to ONE ice cream (three big scoops) and ONE castle (all the towers) and pat myself on the back for restraint. Or I would have if I’d been more bendy and my hands weren’t full of ice cream.
And then it’s time for registration. The drive is all on winding roads between green fields and blue mountains. It is beautiful. And bumpy. I wondered how much of the ride would actually involve vertical cycling and whether we’d have to bring our own winches and ropes. I tended to enjoy cycling up hills for the simple reason that an uphill usually meant that there would be a downhill sooner or later and I could have a bit of rest and a flapjack while the world flashed past upwards.
|A registration pack and a panicked expression.|
We found the registration venue in the Electric Mountain Visitor Centre, Llanberis. It wasn’t easy to miss. The car park was full of estate cars with bikes in the back of the car, on the back of the car and on the car roof. And vans. Obviously people had decided to avoid the hotel problem by bedding down in the van with the bike. Romantic.
I put ‘van’ on my Christmas list. Santa would have a bugger of a time getting it down the chimney but it would probably save me a fortune on hotel fees. And the bike would like the snuggles.
I picked up my race pack, got back in the car, put my seatbelt on and went to turn the ignition key ... and paused. After the series of events this weekend, wouldn’t it be a good idea to CHECK the contents of the pack? I laid everything out on the passenger seat. No race tattoos.
Slap forehead and stagger back into registration.
There are several spare race tattoos and we manage to make the number 862 with sticky numbers of varying sizes. It’s a win. I make sure I have a black biro just in case of race tattoo cock up-age. I have a history of these things and on more than one occasion have been reduced to drawing my race number on various appendages in black biro to avoid disqualification.
We start to drive back to hotel – I have a spa to sit in and ice cream to eat – but I decide it would be sensible to drive the cycle route. It’s full of cyclists. “Look at all these Race-Squares recce-ing the route!” I exclaim. The Husband points out WE are ALSO recce-ing the route. I shut up.
The aim of me recceing the route was for me to learn where the corners and climbs are so I don’t get a nasty surprise on race day but I spend so long bickering with The Husband about where the turns are that we lose our place in the race instructions and are reduced to following cyclists ... “It must be this way as that man wearing all the lycra and the sperm helmet is going this way.”
Finally get back to the hotel and I go and sit in the spa pool. It is cold.
The start of race day was promising. Not only did I remember to put my sports bra on BEFORE my trisuit (I am ALTERNATIVE superman), the race tattoos went on smoothly and the black biro remained underplayed.
|Actually got the numbers on without resorting to biro.|
I got to the race start which was bathed in quiet sunshine, racked my bike – RIGHT by bike exit! – and laid out all my kit. It was the most serene start to a race ever. The mountain backdrop of Elidir Fawr, the Moel Eilio Ridge and Mount Snowdon edged the world and Llyn Padarn reflected them back, calm and peaceful ready for the swimmers. The forecast had suggested there might be a light shower but it looked as though it was going to hold off. It was a 40% chance of rain. That's 60% chance of not rain, right?
|So early it's only my bike here!|
As I was racked so early, I pulled a hoody on over my trisuit and sat down for 45 minutes with a coffee watching the cafe fill up with triathletes and their families. I love people watching when I’m on my own but after half an hour or so and my 2nd coffee I was noticing a bit of a trend. People coming in all wet. REALLY wet. Unless they've all got REALLY keen about the lake swim then it was absolutely bucketing down outside.
Bugger. And just in time for me having to strip off to get my wetsuit on.
I went outside into torrential rain. PROPER torrential rain. Buckets of water rain. My hoody, trisuit, shoes and hair were soaked through in the 100 metres it took for me to walk from the cafe to transition.
|Ah ... perfect tri weather ...|
And trying to get a wetsuit on when I’m drenched is actually really difficult. I’m standing on muddy grass, toes sinking into the mud, the rain is pouring down and everything is soaked and seeping water. My skin is cold and clammy as is the wetsuit and I’m slipping around trying to climb into a rubber suit which is flailing around like an out of control octopus.
I’d cry out of frustration - in fact I might be crying but it’s raining so hard no-one can tell – but I don’t want to start the race dehydrated and I suspect looking at the size of the mountains around me, I’m going to need to keep as much moisture in as possible.
There is sheep poo on my toes. The prize goes to the Slateman Triathlon for the most Welsh start ever. But despite the poo we’re all wearing on our feet, it is a very friendly start. There is an ‘Elite Women’ start so the 'Rest of Us' wave is small and pretty friendly. We all stood around chatting and trying to surreptitiously stand next to the people who looked least likely to kick you in the face. As we get called forward and start walking towards the swim entry I realise I’ve forgotten to eat my pre-race banana. Never mind. It would probably have melted in all this rain anyway.
As I stand on the shore and get counted in, I realise that for the first time ever that I’m not terrified of the swim.
I started this sport as a runner and running generally involves a lot less elbowing and kicking in the face than triathlon (apart from the National cross country races ). It really IS a contact sport. Although I would like to point out that it isn’t ME that kicks people in the head (except for Loz but that’s purely accidental and in no way connected to her beating me out of the swim at Pitsford last year ). So it was a revelation to realise that I wasn’t scared.
Despite not being terrified, I was still too nervous to warm my wetsuit up. I have a nervous bladder. Also my tummy had been a bit dodgy recently and I didn’t want to risk my wetsuit being ‘warm with lumps in’.
As we were standing ready to go in, the first man came in from the first wave. He’d managed a 15 min swim. After all the recent fuss with the cyclocross motorised doping, they should stop checking the BIKES for motors and check that bloke hasn't got an engine up his arse. Wow! Wish I could swim like that. (Fast NOT with intestinal extras)
The water was slate grey in the rain and flatly reflecting the looming storm clouds above. As we were called forward into the lake, the chill of the water seeped through the wetsuit. The temperature had been listed as 14.7 on the race update yesterday but it had been confirmed as 11.4 this morning. This felt like a generous measurement for the icy water and I was aware that if the temperature had been measured as 11 or below, the swim wouldn’t be allowed.
Maybe the mad kicky ladies went off in the Elite Women start but the start was reasonably sedate. This was helped by the fact the race was started before half the swimmers had reached the starting buoys for the deep water start so maybe the people who usually kick me in the face had gone off with them. They weren’t missed.
I picked up some feet to draft but moved on past when the girl slowed out of her mad swim start mode and I headed out towards the first buoy mainly on my own. The wave was small so the group spread out fairly early on. Picked up some more feet just past buoy 1 along with someone else and we shared nicely, having a foot each. We caught arms a couple of times but didn't get any bashes - we just got on with it. See open water swimmers – you CAN share – it’s NOT compulsory to smack the other person in the head.
The feet I was chasing slowed down past buoy 2 so left them to my peaceful non-face-smacking swimming buddy and went at it alone. It was difficult to sight on the grey rocky shore so when I was passed by a couple of fast swimmers from the wave after me about 50m from shore, I just aimed for the white water and hoped I wasn't chasing fast feet not an approaching wave of swimmers.
I kept swimming until it became too shallow and overtook another person trying to wade their way through thigh high water like someone trying to escape soup. For the FIRST TIME EVER in a race I actually remembered the quick release on the wetsuit and managed to get it down to my waist before I found my bike. Not because I'm quick but because the bike was absolutely miles away.
|The bike course elevation.|
However this was still quite an achievement as the mixture of mud and rain early appeared to have combined to produce a super strong adhesive. I did what must have appeared to outsiders a kind of King Louis from the Jungle Book, ‘King of the Swingers’ dance to remove the thing as virtually the entire rest of my wave ran past with their bikes. Quick transition show offs.
Doing my helmet up with cold hands was like trying to use chopsticks with oven gloves on and I wasted a minute or so bashing my hands together trying to get the buckles done up by luck. Eventually it worked.
Emptied the rain water out of my shoes, pulled them on and made the mistake of standing on my towel which released a torrent of water, ignored that, pulled bike out of rack and ran towards the exit and narrowly avoided a man in front who stopped directly ON the mount line like a bloody idiot. Managed to avoid ramming bike directly up his lycra-clad arse crack and manoeuvred bike around him like a sweary cold thing, jumped on and started pedalling up the hill.
The climb starts nice and gently but it gets steep really soon and before you’ve had a chance to warm your legs up and I was thanking Matt in the cafe who’d advised me to leave my bike in the small ring. I was passing people steadily on the bike which is always a nice little boost but rather than showing that I’m awesome on the bike (I’m not) it demonstrates how slow I am on the swim as I usually spend the first half an hour on the bike catching up the people who kicked my arse – and probably my face – in the lake.
Any time lost climbing the hills was possibly regained on the descents as despite being unable to use the tri bars to take advantage of the downhills as the torrential rain made the road so treacherous, the water stopped the brakes working. Completely.
Due to the lack of brakes I was getting some GREAT speed up. The effect was possibly spoiled by me wailing “I’m going to dieeeeeeeee!” although this probably created an amazing Doppler effect for the spectators who had braved the storm to cheer on the riders.
|I'm enjoying this despite the water. And screaming.|
There was good local support and pockets of damp people braving the torrential rain and storm to come out and ring bells and cheer us onwards. It was really lovely. Despite the rain pouring down my face and the hail bouncing off me, I smiled for a huge proportion of the cycle ride.
A nice touch was that the race numbers had the competitor’s names on so I knew exactly who was overtaking me or who I was trying to chase down. I played leapfrog with ‘Scot’ for a while and passed a few words with ‘Fiona’ as we climbed a hill behind ‘Georgie’ and finally managed to overtake ‘Oliviu’. However as a late entry I was still poor old 862.
The roads were constantly uphill or downhill. I think I found a flat piece on top of a mountain for a metre or so but I wouldn’t bet any money on it. They also twisted like snakes. It was all incredibly beautiful (through the film of water) but it was difficult to know where to brake and which direction the serpent of road would twist after the next bend.
I was managing a previous hitherto untried nutrition strategy – waterlogged flapjack and rainwater-dissolved haribo. It was a way of hydrating AND fuelling at the same time. Basically rainwater soup with floating gummy bears and chia seeds. Not convinced it’ll be a big seller.
A black Audi came belting past, screeched a halt in a layby in front of me and a phone was brandished out of the window. Bellowed: “SMILE!” ‘Click!’ Ah The Husband has come to support. Thought I recognised the style of driving.
|Mouthful of ALL the food.|
I smiled for the camera around a mouthful of gummy bears and fizzy cola bottles. No. Just no. That’s one photo that won’t make it into the race report.
Riding back into Llanberis on the final straight, there were people lining the roads and clanging cowbells, I felt like a Tour De France rider. Wow!! I may not have a yellow jersey but I’d certainly have fly-specked teeth the amount of smiling I was doing. It was BRILLIANT!
Belting into transition, leap off and bike racked, trainers on and done up, helmet and gloves off, ready to go. Get me! A smooth transition!
As I started the run I realised I’d forgotten forgot my gels. Bugger. And there I was being all smug about a quick transition. Like a divine drenched angel, a marshal was handing out the High 5 gels on the gate so I begged two from her, gobbled one now and saved the other for halfway through the run.
Still enjoying the sweet gel, I nearly fell in a hole right next to the exit of T2. Just to make sure the triathletes knew it was going to be a trail run (in case anyone was accidentally wearing racing flats and wanted a quick reminder so they could change), the organisers had directed the racing line through an actual marsh with the following benefits: reeds (which I clambered over), boggy holes (which I stumbled over) and small ponds of water (which I splashed through) and a small steep hillock (which I avoided). After this obstacle course, we were spat out between kissing gates and under a bridge with a railway track passing across it. I was lucky enough to pop out from the bridge just as a steam train came past hooting its horn, with the passengers inside cheering us onwards. I tried to wave down the train and get a lift to the end but the passengers just waved back.
Up across the field and past a marshal who was chatting , I overshot an exit. As I doubled back a girl came speeding up so I let her go past before me through the narrow gate with a friendly word. She was really working hard and I did wonder if she’d be able to maintain that pace. We hadn’t even got to the bumpy parts yet.
The trail snaked steeply uphill under large dripping trees, the large slate steps steep and slippery, rising upwards sharply. They were hard on the legs after a long bike ride so I hiked and ran up trying not to slip and finally reached the top where the path flattened briefly before hitting a stony road and dropping down again.
That wasn’t too bad.
I had been told the hills were very tough. It hadn’t been FUN but it wasn’t half as bad as people had said. The path led onto a pavement, easy on the feet, which wound down and down and down – a lovely long looping downhill. It was easy running and I didn’t have to watch where I placed my feet . This wasn’t too bad at all.
Then I saw people turning left through a gateway. But there’s no road there ... Oh. And what’s that moving in the distance? Oh crap. Those are people. Running. On what appears to be a mountain. A grey massive mountain. Made of shifting slate and stones. Oh goody. Lucky me. I managed to survive the swim (wet), the cycling (wetter) and now I have to run up a mountain (wet, high and vertical). I am going to try and cry and probably die. Probably from being overly dramatic. Or melting from all the water like the witch in the Wizard of Oz.
Ok. *Deep breath* This isn’t too bad. Just get to that flattish bit.
*Puff, pant* Relentless forward progress.
*Puff, pant, puff* Even running at this pace is quicker than walking.
*Plays violin on own Achilles* Hey at least this is better than the bike – it doesn’t matter how slow I go at least I won’t fall over sideways when I go too slow and have my feet stuck to a bike.
*Climbs hill* Although if this hill gets any steeper I won’t have my feet stuck to the floor either.
*Puff* Oh look there’s that speedy lady again. *Huff* Running up hills. Look at her being all speedy and running.
Oh she’s stopped. *Feel a bit mean about thinking about pushing her over for being all keen and perky* *Offer speedy lady my last gel* Nope apparently gels don’t help when it’s sore feet*
*Running slows down even further due to vertical surface* Ok. I’m hiking this bit. This is insane. My legs can’t run at this angle. I’d have to be a *tries desperately to think of an animal which can stick to things * octopus ... to run up here.
*Whiles away a few minutes of hill climbing imagining an octopus trying to run up a hill*. I imagine it’s quite similar to me trying to get my 6 year old daughter dressed for school while she tries to run away to watch TV instead.
After what feels like hours of pain, shifting slate and the most ungainly run / walking style imaginable (probably about 10 minutes), I FINALLY gets to the flattish bit I had spotted from below (flattish = slightly less vertical) and to my horror, it winds around the hill and climbs vertically up the next hill.
It was like watching the TV channel Dave. Unending repeats of exactly the same thing. I’d climb a massive hill ... *hopeful face* is this the end? Path winds around corner ... oh no, MORE massive hills.
Everyone around me had developed the same style of climbing the hills, power hike the vertical bits and run when your feet could safely leave the ground. I started chatting to a chap who recognised the socks – who doesn’t like a garish stripe? - who was hoping to see his wife and 3 week old son at the finish line but was concerned that they’d be put off by the torrential rain. Ended up walking in a brief mournful group with Speedy Lady too and we all got overtaken by an even speedier lady with a black and white trisuit and an inspirational slogan on her bum – “Today is your day” or “Dig deep and don’t cry”. Something similar. She powered up the hills and was out of sight around the corner. I’d like to have an inspirational slogan on MY bum but not sure “Try not to follow through” or “ I’m only doing this for the cheese” would have quite the same inspiring effect.
Finally after power hiking the vertical bits and running the bits where mountain goats wouldn’t fall off, I made it to a gap in the rocks. A photographer was crouched there recording the misery and he cheered me on with a jolly cry of ”You’re at the top now!” At the TOP?? Hooray!! Bloody hooray! I would have danced, but I was saving all my energy for not dying. I sprang through the gap in the rocks, bounced down the hill and ground to a halt at the start of the next uphill. Bloody fibbing photographers. He was only saying that to get me to smile. Bloody photographer. Bloody bloody photographer.
I ground up the hill, thinking of a torment to inflict on a race photographer that was worse than telling a triathlete that they were at the top of a mountain. When they weren’t. I couldn’t think of one so I made up some new swear words instead.
The trail eventually felt a bit more downhill ... in fact certainly more downhill. Huh. Well this was nice. My legs were certainly feeling fatigued (posh triathlete word for ‘tired’) by all the ups but they were enjoying this bit of down. Right then Sarah, you slacker. Crack on! Waving a cheery farewell to Speedy Lady and Mr Sock Chaser, I put a bit of speed on and ran down the hill. In fact I ran away from the hill. I never wanted to climb up there again. I flew down the mountainside, past the little knots of supporters, the clanging cowbells ringing in my ears, making my smile wider.
The trail twisted under trees and wound past houses tucked into valleys and climbed short, sharp uphills and chased the river, winding and diving on wet, rocky steps and over black, wet shoe-sucking mud. My flying feet took me past bluebells, past other runners and under the shade of the trees. Under rocky bridges, walkers standing to one side letting these wild-eyed triathletes storm past, their shoes kicking up slate and mud, their legs tired but their smiles wide. I could hear the tannoy echoing through the trees but my legs were tiring, then I was running behind the shoulder of the lady with the inspirational slogan on her trisuit and flying past her on a downhill. Don’t look back, just run. Go legs, go! The run distance was 11km but I was already at 6.5 miles and the finish was nowhere in sight. I could see Llanberis lake glittering between gaps in the trees, hundreds of feet below. I still had to get down there, around the lake and find the finish. Just keep going legs.
Swooping down, through more kissing gates, more mud and then out onto rocky steps past some spectators and another gate and onto a field. I REMEMBER this field! I ran through this field a hundred years ago, before I’d run up mountains and down slate hills and through forests. Runners coming the other way heading out towards their mountain, I am heading home, towards the finish, towards the finish I cannot yet see. Keep running legs, keep breathing lungs. A tunnel of people lining, run through, keep running, children with hands out. I high fived as many as possible without slowing down or spinning them around like tops. People cheering me on in Welsh. Or swearing at me. Or exclaiming that I was about to fall over. Husband in the crowd, turning a corner and the finish gantry! There! Run for the line. Go! Go! And over.
Slateman you broke me. Here is my ‘World of Pain face’. (Same time next year?)
19th female / 159 (2nd 35-39)
241 / 822 total
|Clambering onto the podium after all the speedier people have vacated it.|
Thank you ‘Always Aim High’ for an AMAZING event.