Finally, after months of preparing, and a day of frantic list-making, packing and bike fettling, race weekend was ON. I eagerly headed up to Keswick, with everything looking perfect. Conditions forecast: cloudy with occasional sunshine, and race day temperatures peaking at 16 degrees. Lovely. And I could relax about race logistics, because the organisers of the Lakesman Triathlon are brilliant, taking care of literally everything to make racing as stress-free as possible.
Registration was quick and easy at HQ next to Derwentwater, and once it was done I could catch up with Rach over tea, and await the arrival of James who decided that driving to Keswick was far too soft, and he’d ride over to meet me (insert eye roll emoji). Friday evening was fairly uneventful, getting settled into our ace B&B, sussing out somewhere to go and guzzle carbs, and an early night watching some comedy DVDs.
Saturday morning dawned, already really hot and sunny, and this was my first hint of what was to come. I carried on calmly plodding through race prep though, taking my bike for one last little spin to make sure everything was working before racking, drinking ALL the fluids and electrolytes and starting the endless task of packing my transition bags.
I headed down to the briefing, and was happy to learn some of the rules were being relaxed, namely the one about outside assistance on the run, so we could be joined for laps by friends and family, and they would be allowed to pass us drinks/sunscreen/nutrition as needed. Athlete centred racing right there.
With Anna the bike all racked and ready to go, I said a begrudging goodbye, and headed off to dinner with a few of Team Bear. I loaded up on very boring pasta, even more boring mineral water, and tried to quell the rising sense of dread about the temperatures: during Saturday the forecasted temperatures just kept climbing, to 27 degrees. Not what I want for marathon running after 112 miles on the bike! Still, there was nothing I could do about it, so I did the final bits of race prep (hair braiding and number tattoos) and set a 4:15am alarm. Eek!
I slept better than expected, and awoke at 4am to an already sunny morning, calmly resigned that the day might turn out to be a bit more of a battle than I’d anticipated. Once slathered in sunscreen with my porridge pot forced down, I headed down to the start to add my bottles to my bike and my food to my bike transition bag, and before I knew it, I was wading into the shallows of Derwentwater ready to start the race.
I don’t know if you’ve ever been to the Lake District, but Derwentwater is definitely one of the most beautiful lakes- I doubt there’s a more beautiful swim start in triathlon anywhere.
On race morning it was mirror-smooth, warm and looking especially beautiful. I had a calm and uneventful swim, although at points had to remind myself to get a shift on and stop enjoying the views- swimming as the sun rises in such a beautiful lake, sighting off the mighty Skiddaw in the background, is something that will stay with me for a long, long time after this race. The work I’d done with Chris since November really helped, and I felt great in the water, swimming smoothly and efficiently, and even staying calm when the sun completely blinded me on the finish straight and I couldn’t sight the finish line at all. Before I knew it, I was out and running up the exit carpet, wrestling with my wetsuit zip and starting to think about the rest of the race ahead, lapping up the cheers of ‘go on girl!’ with a massive grin on my face.
With it being a hot day ahead, I took extra time in T1 to make sure I had everything I needed. Rach happened to be in there as her relay cyclist left, and she did a great job of helping me get my shit together. Jersey on, helmet on, food in pockets, socks on shoes on and awaaaaay on the bike! I didn’t top up on sunscreen though, as I thought the P20 I put on pre race would be enough. Lolz.
The bike was probably the bit of the race that I was most excited for. I had a heart rate monitor on, I had a pacing plan from Chris (strictly Zone 2 only!), and I had real hope that I could bike well. The first section out to the cost was into a direct headwind, which felt a little like riding into a hairdryer, but I tried to chill and keep on top of my food and fluids.
I was already having to drink a LOT on the bike, and was very grateful for the frequent bottle stations: in total I put away 3 litres of fluid, and probably poured as much cold water on the back of my neck and down my arms to cool myself down. My Stoats bar, peanut butter sandwich and Tailwind drink plan was going down nicely, and I was making reasonable progress. There was a long, flat coastal section with a tailwind, which I LOVED, as well as a more undulating loop where I had good fun overtaking men on heavy TT bikes, whilst I nipped past on my little light road bike! I wasn’t doing a brilliant job of keeping my heart rate down, but it was what it was, and on a hot day, it was clear the race was a matter of just keeping going.
From 80 miles onwards, I was ready to just be done with the bike leg: my seatbones were starting to get a little sore on my saddle, and I was absolutely desperate for a wee in T2, as well as being kinda lonely. I think I really underestimated how lonely the bike would be, with the exception of small clusters of supporters out with signs and cowbells. I felt definite relief as I breezed down the hill into T2, especially as I hadn’t haemorrhaged as much time as I expected.
The one goal I had all the way through training for this race was a strong run, and I felt optimistic when I came off the bike. I thought I’d taken on plenty of food and fluids, and once I’d finally had a wee, I was excited to get going. I stripped off the bike jersey and helmet, put on fresh socks for the run, my favourite running shoes and the all important visor, and headed out to see this thing through!
Running out of the transition tent and onto the run route genuinely felt like running into an oven. My legs, however, felt reasonably good, and I started to chip away at getting this thing done. The first couple of miles ticked by uneventfully, until I hit the long out-and-back section of the 5 lap run course, otherwise known as the Highway to Hell- a double out-and-back on a closed road with NO tree shade whatsoever. Pretty soon into the run leg, I started having to have walk breaks, as I was feeling absolutely rubbish- low on energy, absolutely parched and far, far too hot. In the aid stations, I tried water, electrolytes and even slurps of Coke, as well as the gels I had with me, but nothing was working. I felt nauseous but thirsty simultaneously, and was really struggling to run.
I saw my sister for the first time at about 10 miles in, and burst into tears. I’d really wanted to be proudly nailing this race, and I felt angry that my body was failing me like this. Her and James did a great job of keeping me company whilst I ran and walked the rest as best as I could, but it was a long, depressing shuffle for me, as I watched the sort of times I’d wanted and any hope of a placing in my age group slip away from me. Perhaps there was an element of mentally giving up too, but I was absolutely hating it, despite the wonderful marshals and aid station volunteers, giving us encouragement, dousing in cold water and drinks. The heat was ridiculous for the Lake District though; within half a mile of dousing myself in water I was completely dry again. I could feel myself burning, and I wasn’t the only one struggling; there was real fighting spirit and camaraderie out there between all the struggling racers.
Eventually, I picked up the final lap band on my wrist, and after one more slow trip up and down the Highway to Hell, it was time to run down the finish chute. I unashamedly burst into tears, a mix of frustration at how my race had turned out, absolute exhaustion, sweet relief that it was finally over, and pride at what I’d achieved.
I’m honestly still deciding how I feel about the race that played out. I know an ironman is something very few people in the population will complete, and I did so in a respectable time, but it didn’t feel like the race I trained for. I worked bloody hard in training and was determined, above all, to have a good run leg, which I didn’t manage, and I feel slightly pathetic for having not managed it. I’m proud of my mind and body for holding up throughout a long training period, and learned a lot about myself and my limits, but I’m not sure this is something I ever want to put myself through again, despite the race itself being fantastic.
Lakesman are organising a 70.3 race next year and I think that is more realistic for me to commit to; the training will be slightly less of a massive commitment, and I can experience the fantastic atmosphere of the Lakesman again. Phil and Marie, who organise the race, are probably my favourite race organisers out there, and deserve for the event to be a huge success- from registration to completion, it couldn’t be more obvious that they live and breathe this race, and I look forward to many years of the race, whether for me it’s as a 70.3 racer, a relay for the ironman or as a volunteer.
Over and out; time to be casually deliberate with all the merch I bought. Oh, this old mug? It’s just from a race I did recently.
Race times, should you be interested:
Overall 14:14:07, 26th woman, 5th 25-29