Sunday, 10 August 2008

hell and high water - Wensleydale triathlon

One of the ten toughest triathlons in the uk? dont gimme that! - i genuinely cannot recall having done as gruelling event as this (and i'm not one for shying away from anything cold, steep, wet - infact, just tell me it's 'brutal' and i'm rushing to get on the start list). The fact that its just shy of half ironman distance the only thing preventing it form being renowned as the toughest half in the world. And that' s without the weather that we had today. 10th august? of COURSE there'd be over a foot of chop on the small lake, transition 1 would be under 4ft of water! and why on earth would you DOUBT that you'd be treated to lashing horizontal rain, carried by 60mp gusts of wind over the tops of the Yorkshire Dales? packing summer race gear?? stupid southern cow - we're going 'oop north' to race this weekend...and we all know it's grim up north. Well, in my defence, when we recce'd the course 2 weeks prior, it hadn't been. The toughness had been provided by the lay of the land, as the bike route follows an extremely scenic course over the dales, taking in gradients +25% in generous measure but rewarding with some beautiful moorland scenery and fast descents (plus a couple of very very steep and technical ones for good humour). The 12 mile fell run takes an immediate skyward turn, testing the aerobic endurance on up to the top of the fell, and foot speed on the 6 mile descent to the finish line.

But this is just my sort of race. Having checked the course, and my current form, i entered this one with the win in mind and boldly informed the very friendly organizers, the owners of the bike shop from which the race starts and finishes, of the fact.

come saturday the 9th august, a rainy day in North Yorks, when i felt so far under the weather that i cut my training ride (easy 50 miler) short after 2 hours and sulked in bed instead, I was beginning to rue this bravado. Fortunately, the weather report for the following day was much better, so when we woke to bright skies I felt more positive AND I’d had a bit of a 'taper' too.

However, during the 50 mile westward drive to the venue the day turned steadily greyer, and wetter, and by the time we arrived, it was clear that Wensleydale was situated in an entirely different season, with weather akin to a miserable march day. We were not keen to get out of the car. This is exactly how it had been for Steven in 2006 - the first running of the event (only 40 or so competitors compared to 250 odd that had signed up for today), which he went on to win, and thoroughly enjoyed, so i was not taking these feelings of reluctance too seriously. if i am honest, i cannot think of a single occasion where i have arrived at a race actually wanting to go through with it. nerves, or something.

so we get on with it - scurrying out of the car between frequent and heavy downpours to assemble our bike to (fell) run gear in the Kudos Bikes carpark which is T2 for the day. no support is to be expected up on the fells, so as per fell running conduct waterproofs are mandatory and own water and energy supplies are to be carried up. i have only 1 sort-of waterproof jacket (brought along as 'token' for the hot summer racing that i expected) and had to choose whether to use it in the bike or run. Optimistically, i left it for the run, still hopeful that the weather forecast would prove accurate as the day went on.

The swim and transition 1 was about 6 miles away, so that was our next destination of the morning. we arrived to find that parking was a bit tight to say the least, the lake being at the bottom of a very steep and narrow lane. turns out the reason for this is that the bottom bit of the lane including transition area and the swim exit ramp, was entirely flooded.

well, that's the scene sufficiently set. on to the racing part.

the swim was shortened. not much disappointment amongst the crowd of frozen competitors huddled around the ominous looking waters in their wetsuits, in the rain. it would be a 400m straight out and back dash. Over the noise of the howling wind, i dont think anyone heard the starters orders, if any were given, and we all just started swimming when those around us did. it was like swimming into a vertical wall of water - swimming square out into the direction of the wind and waves. total chaos. actual swimming was out of the question, which is a bizarre way was quite relaxing - no one seemed too concerned about racing and there was really no scuffling between competitors as we all just did what we had to progress forwards. i saw several people calling for canoes around me within the first 100m. i was a bit surprised to discover that i was really quite enjoying it, and even felt a little disappointed when we reached the turn-bouy much sooner than expected. the swim in was super fast, of course!

transition was pretty slow - find bike in the bushes (remember - bike racks under 4 ft water, so we'd all just had to lay our bikes and kit out along the grass verges) and put on as much clothing as i had, whilst wet and shivering. Steven was still in transition doing the same.

first bit of the bike course is a 1:3 climb from the lake. luckily i knew this and had put the bike in appropriate gearing - unlike some! this was really a nice little 'starter' provided by the organizers to set the tone for the rest of the bike course, which i have described already. today though was the added discomfort and difficulties of my being very very cold and there being section where it was extremely windy. coupled with wet road, winding steep descents and a bike crash fresh in my memory i was not enjoying it much. The winds made it so treacherous that i was reluctant to take my hand away from my bars to grab water bottle or zip up my gilet, and my jaw was locked so tight from the cold that i had a face-ache and had difficulty eating anything ( i usually like to get some water and energy on board early in the bike leg - luckily it was not hot and the swim was short so i wasn't really in need of either). it was a total battle to stay on the bike and there were several occasions when i considered retiring form the race on safety grounds. the few supporters that had ventured out around the course were treated to some pretty grim facial expressions, I’m sure!

for the first half of the course i just concentrated on working hard where i could make progress and riding safely in other places - convinced of the fact that everyone else out there would just have to be doing the same. On the climb past Garsdale Station i was passed by a woman wearing Wonderwoman pants over her cycling shorts! she was flying up the 25%-er, and i though good thing too, in those pants....this cheered me up a bit and encouraged me to dig in. i'd passed a few girls early on but since then had really stopped thinking about the racing, and had no idea of my placing, but reckoned that realistically we'd be right up there. Wonderwoman and i played cat and mouse - she was amazing on the hills and I was in the unusual position of being stronger on the flatter sections. Just my luck that bloody wonderwoman shows up, i think. The last part of the course is a long rolling descent into Hawes enabling me to catch her and we enter T1 together. I guess i'm just a more hardened racer, as i was out on the run a good couple of minutes before she was. i did not know who she was, and could only assume that she was some local girl, born and bred on the fells, and would certainly have me on the descent even if i'd held her off on the way up. so i had my work cut out.

like the swim and the bike course the run was flooded and extremely windy. my gilet behaving like a sail - irritating but with the wind mostly from behind on the climb, i decided i could live with it - just made staying on the path a bit more tricky when those side gusts hit! it truly was nose-runningly, wimperingly gruesome! and people were coming down already!

I remembered that there had been a half length event, so that was not an issue - until we passed their turn point and then, being a straight out and back (up and down) run i'd get to see where i was in the field.
i counted 3 girls on the return from the full distance before the top. well, there you go. i could not see wonderwoman anywhere close behind me, but still, not winning is loosing ...thoughts like that running through my head as i checked to see if i could possibly run any harder. not really - the ground was too uneven, wet, steep, boggy..and my feet hurt. however, in the back of my mind i thought it fairly unlikely that there could be 3 women THAT far ahead of me - so reckoned that a 1 or 2 of them were probably in mixed relay teams. i just wouldn't know. so i pushed on, focusing on finishing as soon as possible, and in front of wonderwoman. superjo defeats wonderwoman! yeah.

after an hour we reach fog/cloud, we must be near the top, and suddenly steven appears. he yells 'those women are all in relays teams - you're leading!' exactly what i wanted to know. nice one. i see teh turn around cairn very soon after and realize that i'm not far behind steven, either.

spurred on its back down -but into a severe head wind! i hear the marshal laughing (or is that the howling wind, again? the sound has been ringing in my ears for 5 hours almost!) as i try to reconnect with the ground having been blown clear. take a note of the time to see how far wonderwoman is behind. about a minute and a half. oh hell - and she' s probably a fell runner - i really have to push this descent. a bit scary, with hips and elbows still open from the bike crash a fall would really be painful, so i'm totally focused all the way down. i get a load of people still on their way up ( and some blokes coming down past me) congratulate me - i'm just in the zone, and hardly acknowledge.

at last i reach flat ground, risk a look backwards - no sight - and push hard over the soggy fields. i'm feeling strong still, just weather beaten! a wrong turn costs me a few hundred meters and brings my chaser into sight. but i can see the town and the finish too. she cant make up the distance - can se? run hard along the final stretch of road, to the finish.

what a race -i am exhausted by the efforts, the mental strain, the cold. very happy to have stuck it out, and boosted by the win.

on the car ride back, we agreed - we'll do it again. Both Steven and i have had wins here - it'd be good to get them in the same year! and it'd be such a pleasure in good conditions ;o)

we're off for a run on the hills now, before hitting the road back to london.

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