As I said earlier, one of the hardest but most rewarding days of my life on so many levels. The journey to race day morning started back in Oct 11, thrashing about in a swimming pool barely able to swim four lenghs. I will talk more about this in futre posts though. The day had arrived, my first triathlon!
Arriving late Thursday night in Sheildaig after a long drive from Ambleside, Steves van was converted to sleep mode and we attempted to sleep. My mind was racing with a mix of fear and excitement that. I probally managed three decent hours sleep before waking to a beautiful view of loch Torridon. I went for a swim to see how cold the water was and steady the nerves. It was pretty chilly and I was certainly glad of the early march swim training in Windermere.
After signing on, meeting other competitors and the organisers it was clear this was a fairly laid back event. I had fears of super serious, hardcore ironman veterens making me feel out of place and bossy officials getting mad at me for not knowing what to do. This could not have been further from the truth. I had the feeling that we were all in the same boat (organisers included!), all together preparing for a long, hard day with the same worries and fears. I prepped, checked and re checked my kit, filled bottles, sorted out nutrition and once again attempted to snatch some sleep.
Sign on was 3am, next set up T1 then be ready to board the coaches for the journey to the start of the swim. Anxiety was once again setteld as we boarded the coaches and I got chatting to a fellow competitor about training, previous events, the areas we came from and the day ahead. The scene on the beach with torches buring, the sound of bag pipes, the sun begining rise and mountains in the distance over a flat loch was truly amazing. We informed the swim had been cut a little short due to water temps and before i knew it we were wading into the water. I was one of the first in and I felt releif that it was about to begin. All the months of prep, early mornings, long hard days training, and over half a year of effort were about to be worth it. I kept reminding myself this was what it was all about.
The horn sounded and we started swimming. My first experince of a mass swim start. I settled down, enjoyed the sunrise over the hills, saw lots of jelly fish and got pretty cold going through the middle of the loch. I did tighten up towards the end and suffered some cramp issues but made it to the slipway, managed to stand up without falling over and needing help and got ready for a bike ride. 1hr02mins for the swim. Steve my legendary one man support crew did a fantastic job helping me get changed whilst still suffering cramps and colds hands and I was soon on my bike cycling up and out of T1. The hill at the start helped me warm up a little and I felt happy to be on to the land part of the days journey.
I felt good at the start of the bike but road fairly cautiously as was my plan. First hitch of the day was my HR monitor not working. Nothing major though, I like to train on feel lots rather than always rely on gadgets. I very had a good idea from training how hard I could ride and still run so all good. I picked up a bottle from Steve just after Kinlochewe. It was around this time I noticed a slight niggle at the top of my right calf. Probally from the cramp I had in the water and T1. This would haunt me for the rest of the bike and run and gradualy got worse throughout the day. No chance I was giving up though, not after all the effort to get here.
Despite this I felt great on the bike, was riding within my limits and passing other riders, moving slowly up the field.
Then disaster struck. My gear shifter broke, leaving me stuck in one gear at the bottom of a hill somewhere near Poolewe. Damm bikes! I had so much trouble in training with bikes and thought I must be due some luck. Clearly not just yet! Luckily Steve was waiting at the top of the next hill. I felt so sorry for myself and thought about just getting in the van and sacking it off. Steve was amazing, helping me change pedals and get his bike sorted so I could carry on with the race. I rode off still full of anger and slowly stated to gain back the ground I had lost. Despite the growing pain in my leg I felt good. My first real rough patch occured leading up to the main climb and lasted till Garve. The road seemed to go on and on but I tried to remind myself that the end always comes, keep moving forwards and you will reach it. This was what I had signed up for and this low point would pass and I would eventualy reach the other side. Look up the "pain is temporary" vid on you tube! I soon felt better but then hit another low patch in the last 15 miles. My leg was really hurting, I had to keep coasting on downhills in an attempt to stretch it out. The power in my legs felt low, the saddle was getting seriously uncomfortable and my neck and shoulders ached. The road seemed to stretch on forever and I kept thinking I would never be off this bike! I felt alone and weak. It had also started raining.
But the end did come and the part of the day I was most looking foward to.7hrs25 for the bike. Steve informed me we would comfortably reach the cut off so no stress there. I felt I had biked well considering, but would I be able to run? A handfull of pretzels and I was off.
I could run! I felt strong to. I ran out to the top of the Coulin pass, Happy with my pace and pleased to be off the bike my spirits lifted. Also seeing other competitors and having a bit of a chat helped. The leg loosened up running the downhill and flats through the magnificent pass. I could see the scree slopes of Beinne Eighe looming in the distance but concentrated on finding a rythm and enjoying my running. The two aid stations were fantastic. The volunteers were amazing, I hope they did not get too eaten by midges! I had one of those moments when you see exactly what you need and want to eat on the table before you. A handful of small cinamin profriter roll type things and some water went down a treat. Another slight low patch hitting the tarmac into T2A passed as I saw Steve ready for our journey up the mountain.
It was great to be with a good friend climbing the mountain after the lonely moments on the bike. I still felt strong and we were passing people climbing the hill. Being cumbrian fell runners we manged to run most of the ridge and I have to say the feeling on reaching the top of the last Munro is one I will remember for the rest of my life. We could now let gravity do some of the work and it was amazing to feel so sharp, strong and at home descending the technical trail to the road. We flowed down the hill in amazing surroundings. We had gained lots of places on the mountain. The mountain rescue team on the hill did an amazing job.
So, the last few miles of tarmac into the finish at Torridon! I dumped my rucksack and took a cafeine gel with a few sips of water. That lonely feeling returned on the road, I just kept telling myself not to stop, keep the rythm and it will be over soon. The wind picked up, blowing straight up through the valley in to my face.
Then Steve appeared out of a car in front of me! He had hitched a lift down the road, unable to close the gap :) in order to help me home! I noticed another runner gaining on me. I was not sure how far I had to go and really did not feel I could lift my pace much more without exploding. Steve assured me it was fine but I dug deep and found the extra I needed not to lose my hard earnt position at the finish line. I lifted the pace again for the last few hundred meters, breathing hard and powered by adrenaline. I crossed the finish line in a time of 14hrs 13mins.
I was truly spent and felt I had given all I had during the course of the day. The course had demanded everything of me and all the other competitors that day and we had responded.
Thanks to all the volunteers, local communtiy, mountain rescue team, the race organisers, competitors and support crew for one of the most amazing days of my life. Also thanks to my friends and family for encouragement, advice and for putting up with my moodiness and fretting along the way. Special thanks to Steve for being awsome on the day. Could not have done it without you.