The Lakesman – June 2016
About twelve months ago I was told about a Long (Ironman) distance race in the Lake District. “What a stupid idea!!” Previous experiences in the area, such as ‘Day in the Lakes’ and ‘Coniston Tri’ were brutal courses taking some of the infamous passes, climbs with fell runs up mountains. So to go long was not going to be considered. (Although I did look into the details of the event.)
Then during the summer, I visited the area, in particular Keswick and Derwent Water. It was while standing on the water side looking out to the islands and the still water I wanted to get in so knew the event was going to be entered. There were other appealing factors of the event with the promise of a FLAT?? Course and that for a long distance event you could pay in instalments thus managing the cost over 2 or 3 payments, which even for a cheap long distance event of £260 was beneficial.
Attending the Keswick Mountain Festival, a month before was good preparation, not only with racing, but also the logistics of being in the area, with campsites, viewing transition areas and knowing where to be in the town. The reconnaissance had helped out choosing a campsite out of the town centre (Castlerigg Hall I have recommended to a few friends going up to the area), but finding the back route to walk down to transition, meant not worrying about parking in the town.
I arrived for the Friday registration getting through the door within the first couple of minutes while they were still setting up. It was quiet and the staff did not mind being able to give time reminding competitors with the details needed of the course set up, transition open times and where to place stickers. This was even though the information was already in black and white of the athlete guide, explaining in simple terms all that was needed for the race. The event back pack had the complimentary protein bar, energy ‘squish’, transition bags, swim cap, timing chip and a neatly sealed numbers with the race tattoos. The simplicity of the event and registration meant only being there for at the most ten minutes (inclusive of the race brief) and I know it was quiet, but I would not have expected any slower service other than queuing a few minutes, with sufficient staff and basic organisation prepared for higher volumes of competitors.
The next morning, I got down to transition with bike and transition bags knowing that if all was there and ready I could relax until the next morning. Maybe it is because I have done it before, but it was an easy layout well marked for racking and the hook racks for the transition bags had enough space that you were not fighting to squeeze your bags in. Before I knew it everything was prepared and 18 hours before the race, with paranoia that something had been forgotten or not set up.
Around the transition was a small local food festival and surprisingly no tri/ running stall, which meant no temptation to buy something that was not needed or trialled, but the negative aspect if you did not have it you could not buy it. Time was then spent talking to other athletes in the village all contemplating the next mornings race.
There was no temptation to go off with those not doing the race and party the night away, but head back early to rest and fuel for the evening, planning an early night on the serene and tranquil site.
An early rise around 0400 for race day!!! Organised with porridge and coffee meant just having to put on race gear and head on down to transition with swim kit and those last minute preparations, checking tyre pressures, orientating self to position of the bike in transition, visualising in’s and out’s of transition and the location of the bags. I have been told these are what you should do before a race to make it smooth. Before you know it 0530 had come around and transition was closing with all athletes being removed and shepherded on the slip road to the water. The crowds were impressive for an early time of the day all finding their space along the jetties of harbour and path on the edge as one by one we stepped out into the water.
The weather for the day was perfect, with a warm morning that had kept the water temperature more than tolerable in comparison to some of the training swims I had done only weeks before at Salford. It was so warm I felt to be of benefit being in a long john suit and not likely to overheat while expending the first round of energy. Sculling through the weeds was not pleasant, but out into the deeper ranks of those doing battle for the day all trying to determine the direction to go. This was my negative for the event, with the race buoys being too small and too far apart. Knowing the general area to aim for is not good for sighting, but until you catch view of a buoy it was the only option available following the masses and then the glimpse of orange out of the water gave a target to go straight for. This was the same around the whole course. The original plan for the swim was out, right, across in front of the second island, right, a dog leg before heading back down the far side of the first island. So when the buoys kept taking us around the second island it became even harder to understand how the course was going. Not that this mattered when not leading the event, but in your head you have an understanding of how far you would be by the time you were turning and it just makes you wonder how much longer the swim was going to be. So carrying on with section turn, following white hats until seeing the next buoy. Finally coming around the far-side of the first island I knew where I was heading. But no!! The grey morning and black gantry, to swim to, for the finish could not be differentiated and the usual straight line swim was a detour arc as the island edge was followed until white caps in the distance started to straighten up to the bank. Out of the water with one section down. Blue matting through the park only about 200metres and down to the transition tent.
I did try, but even making sure I am fully dry before putting on bike kit meant I was no where near Laura Wright’s T1 time. The bags were easy to locate and put back on the hooks, with this time remembering to have my timing chip on (previous error at Ironman).
Out to the bike with a mount line a lot further out than expected, but cheered along from the masses, while heading out of the town centre onto the A66. We were told the course was going to be flat and this is where you knew it just getting warmed up on the road through to Cockermouth. The roads were all well marshalled and signposted looping down towards the south edge of the coastline to turn back on the coast road. I said the weather was favourable with a bright but overcast day, meaning it not being too hot and a wind behind that had to be made use of. The road was undulating being longer drags rather than shorter climbs and descents, but heading fairly straight. I knew I had been going fast, but when the fifty-six-mile sign came around at 2 hours 30 it came as a shock (only to find out my 90KM split was just under 3 hours and about right). All along in the little villages were small crowds cheering the event along and making it enjoyable. The tip of the course was over a 20-mile loop that was done twice and changed from the coastal road to the country roads that you expect to have in this area going up long, dropping sharp, climbing short, twisting along field edges. Where the first lap turned I did not know what the guy was saying to me, so just followed where the previous cyclist had gone when turning right. As I came to the turn a second time I understood he must have been asking if I had done one loop or completing the second, which is what some competitors did not realise as I saw them doubling back to the course. It was now the ride in, but the benefit of the wind in the first half of the race was now the enemy and the country road along side the main road we came in on was more up and down than the direct flat, eating away at the average speed. The welcome sight of the town centre was chaotic as traffic diversions meant weaving between cars to get back to the closed road for second transition.
I can’t remember previously for a long distance race having to rack my own bike, but in a small area this was not difficult and find the bag for T2.
Only the small matter of the marathon. Now if you do not know Keswick it is a beautiful little town. Yes, little! so doing 5 laps of a 5 mile course around a town with a circumference of only about 2 miles could not have been easy for the organisers. So the circle route had multiple out and backs, with one road totally closed for a double out and back. Psychologically I always feel better when I see little chunks coming down so completion of one lap was 5 miles, then 1 mile further was the 10 km sign another lap and the half the 13.1-mile sign, just over 2 laps was the 40 km sign. It can be a bit much passing the signs 4 times and knowing it does not count, but each point just made it easier to keep going. The feed stations likewise on the run were well staffed and stocked with the usual, gels, energy drinks, water, bananas, crisps, jellied sweets, coke, oranges and sponges that the kids were more than happy to hand out and I found if you make a fancy basketball shot back into the bucket you get a cheer. The run was flat having a combination of chalk path, but mainly roads keeping with the ethos of trying to make it easy for those who had already swam 2.4 miles and cycled 112 miles. Coming around and to the finish the crowds cheered whether you were on the first lap or last and even though I heard the winner coming in as I completed my second lap at 9 hours 11 minutes it was not soul destroying as some people think, but knowing it would not be too long before I would also be crossing the line.
Each competitor had the same finish experience as the winner, with the banner ready across the line and if pre-arranged a holding area for those as teams or with children to go across the line together for the photo.
An event of this distance does not finish there. As you collect your medal and t-shirt you make a decision to collect your gear or go straight into the hospitality tent. Staff there will let you settle down, having the option of a massage, first aid or having something to eat. This is one of the best set ups I have seen, with a coffee bar making drinks on request and a chef who had choices of meals (hotpot, jacket potatoes with beans or veg chilli or Bolognese) to replenish all the energy that had been expended without the sight of some supplement in one form or another. Tables set up with cutlery and napkins were very formal with a few hundred sweaty bodies coming through.
Overall if you want to venture into a long distance race then in comparison to others I have done in the UK this would be my choice. It is a really good price, is well organised and with the simplicity it offers in the early season, means I can now kick back and enjoy the summer, which is something that rarely happens, when having an Ironman experience.