Kielder Water Swim and Kielder Reiver Tri
What is the difference between a swimmer and a triathlete? The answer, I found out this weekend, is to do with how much they whimper.
This was the third year that Vital Events have put on the Kielder Water Swim, and the second year of the Kielder Reiver Triathlon. Against my better judgement I had decided to enter both events; on Saturday acting as guide for Chris in the 1 mile swim and then on Sunday alone in my first solo tri this season.
On both days I had the luxury of being down there nice and early to watch the earlier waves setting off. The swimmers in the 10k category impressed me no end, wading out into the cold body of water that is Kielder Water I didn’t hear a peep out of any of them, even though many entrants were doing this without a wetsuit. This was in stark comparison with the middle distance triathletes who let out all manner of yelps as they went into the water early Sunday morning with it being the same temperature. Personally I felt that we had been very fortunate with the weather and that 16 degrees was positively luxurious compared with what I had been expecting.
Saturday Morning – swim day
So it was that we found ourselves waking up in a cold van at 5:30 Saturday morning at the local scout HQ. After brewing some coffee and getting dressed, we made our way over to the dining room where Ann, the centre manager, had all the usual sort of breakfast fuel you might want at an activity centre. The members of Blythe Kayak club had all finished their breakfast and were heading off down to get prepared on the lakeside, but we had chance to chat with Ann (who would later be doing the swim herself once she had fed 200 scouts) and also with a couple of the other competitors (one of whom would turn out to be the race official on Sunday – always good to keep in with these people)
Due to our breakfast sitting being so early, and the scout centre being only 5 minutes from the race start, we arrived way ahead of our start time of 10:40. This gave us plenty of time to wander around and find out how the others were getting on. The sound of an outboard motor indicates the first and only retiree, having only completed 6km of his 10km swim one swimmer is feeling unwell from taking on water and very wisely has decided to stop before he gets into difficulties. A second boat approaches the Jetty, but this is not another retirement, this is Ann from the Scout HQ arriving in style for her swim, why bother driving to the event when you have a power boat moored up and the end of the jetty?
We have a good chat with Olympic Champion Swimmer Grant Turner who was supporting the event as bait for their challenge. Anyone who beats him in the mile swim will get a share of £200 prize money. Given that Grant’s preferred distance is 100m and that he is not very familiar with swimming in a wetsuit or without lane guides, I’m expecting there to be a good number of people sharing that prize pot.
10:30 arrives and the previous wave sets off, leaving us to make our way to the water for our 10:40 start, pausing briefly to applaud the first finisher who was back before we had event set off. This was Sean Wylie who had completed his 3.8km swim in just 45:43.
The water is lovely, the crowd is good, the course is clear enough to follow, what could possibly go wrong? Then the air horn sounds and the washing machine begins, and I suddenly realise that everyone looks the same. Good job Chris doesn’t know this at the time (though he will upon reading this) but I cannot tell if I’m swimming next to the right person at this point in time. Fortunately things quickly settle down, I realise that I am guiding the right person after all, and we make our way on our out and back course. Chris gets his head down and keeps it down (knowing that if it comes up too often I will clout him round the back of the noggin).
After 40 minutes of the smoothest swimming we have done to date we are out of the water and running up the slip way to the finish line. No need to hurriedly get changed for the bike or anything like that. You can just get dry and enjoy the sunshine and soak up the atmosphere.
Oh and the small matter of the Olympic sprinter versus the experienced OW swimmers. Amazingly only 3 people beat him, but even more amazing was that one of these was the aforementioned Sean Whylie. After completing the 3.8km swim faster than anyone else on the day, he then jumped straight back in the water and joined the mile swim, earning himself £66 for his troubles.
Saturday Night – chill out time
With Chris safely deposited in a car with a random stranger who was driving back down the A1, I was then able to prepare for my tri the next day. Due to the previous week being so hectic I was unable to really pack, instead I had simply thrown everything into the back of the van in a semi organised fashion. I’d not even had time to see why my bike had a deflated tyre, so Saturday afternoon was spent spannering and packing my transition bag.
With everything in order for the next day, and a belly full of pasts from the Scout kitchens, I had a quiet evening to relax. I walked through the woods to the lakeside and found a fallen trunk to sit on while I watched the fiery sunset in the West and the orange full moon rising in the East, reflected on the lake surface. The forecast clouds were notably absent and I sat and enjoyed my bottle of isotonic hops based drink as I watched the stars and even got my first ever glimpse of the ISS.
Well my weekend was complete now, I’d done everything I’d come here for, except for one thing. The small matter of a triathlon, so it was off to bed to be rested for the big day.
Sunday Morning – the big one
Sunday came round and I was ready for it. I awoke before my alarm and fixed up my own porridge in the van. Foregoing the treats of the Scout kitchen on this occasion as just wanted basic fuel.
As the moon set and the sun rose I packed up the van and drove once more down the short stretch to Leaplish Park. Everything went smoothly and I was racked in time to see the Middle Distance swimmers set off. I double checked my race prep, and then wondered how to kill time. The exhibitors today were a foot clinic offering free analysis with a pressure plate. I was interested in this as I had previously required arch supports for flat feet, but ever since taking up fell running I have found them to be unnecessary. I was pleased to see that their data supported that, I no longer seem to have pronation or whatever it is. Yet suddenly I looked at my watch and realised it was almost race briefing time. Maybe it’s time to get ready for going, so I made my excuses and dashed off to get suited up. Alan Copland, the organiser, spotted me still in my tracksuit and suggested that maybe I was leaving it a bit fine, yet I somehow managed to rock up for the race briefing with moments to spare.
The clock was still ticking though, so after the briefing there was barely a minute to spare, so we were asked to get straight in the water and into position. Familiar with this from yesterday, I was immediately in and had swum out to the start line. I checked back to see how near ready we were and saw the next athlete only just ankle deep. There are no prizes for first to the start line though, it’s getting to the finish line first that counts.
Today’s swim was around 3 buoys and we had to do 2 laps. I set off with a good strong stroke and found myself on the front row of swimmers after the first 200m. Not generally being the fastest of swimmers I took this as a sign I was maybe pushing it a bit too much here, so I tucked in behind someone who I felt was going a good pace. I like drafting in the swim as you don’t need to sight, you can just feel the bubbles and know you are on course still. Until that is the bubbles disappear and you look up to see why and realise you have gone straight past the buoy. Pay more attention next time Andy.
Lap 2 of the swim and I am really getting into it, back on form and kicking my legs a bit more to get the blood circulating. There is a fast swimmer to my left but he keeps zigzagging off course then catching me up again, I make a note not to try and draft off this guy.
Out of the water and into transition. My bright orange towel helps me find the spot, but as bike number 4 on a single rail it’s not that hard to find. Bit of a slow one with my socks refusing to roll onto my feet (sorry my bike shoes done work barefoot) but I’m fairly swiftly out and onto the mount line.
The mount line is at the start of a fairly nasty climb, but with the right gear selected, and by telling my legs to shut up when they complained about cramp I was away. So I climbed the hill out, making good progress until I got stuck behind the support van who was stuck behind a rather steady cyclist. I whistled to the driver and he was able to tuck over to one side and let me past (doubt suddenly filling my mind – is this a race neutral zone? – fortunately for me no it was not)
Onto the road. We now faced 20km of undulating roads into Scotland (representing the border raids after which this event is named) before doing a U turn and returning the same way. I passed several people who had beaten me on the swim before shortly settling into a tussle with 2 other bikes that would last until the end of the race. I would get passed by one of them, so would drop back to keep the drafting gap, then this guy’s shadow would come past me and tuck into the gap between us forcing me to back off yet again. But with the constantly varying terrain there was never one of us who could pull away from the others. I’d climb past them on the hills that suited me and think that was the last I’d see of them, but before long I was caught again.
As the bikes came past us the other way I noted the gaps between them, out of sheer curiosity. But after seeing just 4 bikes going back the other way I suddenly saw the sign saying turn around point 200m. We were 5th 6th and 7th! I’ve never been in such a situation that I can count how many are in front of me.
Knowing my run is weaker than my bike I tried a few times to make a break away and give myself a 5th place on entry to T2, but was always clawed back. As it was I rolled in to T2 in 7th place.
Dismount went badly, I’ve taken to removing my feet from my shoes prior to dismount and leaving the shoes on the bike. This has always worked for me till now, but today one of my shoes unclipped and fell to the floor. I then had to run back up the steep hill to collect it, losing valuable seconds. With raynard numbing my feet there was no chance to ensure my running shoes fitted well, so I was able to make a super fast transition and got out onto the run course. On the exit I counted the bikes to determine I was in 6th place, just behind the guy who I might describe as a passenger in our little cycling trio.
I was determined to keep with him so set out strong but when I realised that I could not manage 10km at this pace I decided to run my own race. This was again what you might call undulating, with lots of very short but very sharp climbs. Normally I would relish this as it is just my sort of thing, but the descents were runnable and not really all that technical so I was just resigned to running to the best of my ability and enjoying the view.
The chap who had helped push our pace on the bikes was clearly stronger and passed us early on, yet he had pulled up at around 4km with a stitch, not to be seen again for agesm until the closing stages when he pulled past us once more and this time held on to his lead.
As you come round the tip of the headland you can see up the lake, and realise that the finish is slightly further away than you might have hoped. I was so glad at this point that I’d chosen the standard distance rather than the middle distance, as this was just about manageable (so long as I continued to ignore the cries of my legs)
Finally you come round into the right part of the bay and you can hear the crowds. Despite the field only having about 80 people over the 2 distances, the crowds do a good job of supporting you, and the descent to the finish line cannot come too soon. With a
sprint finish I was amazed to find myself in 8th place at 2:41.
This course is certainly not one of the faster ones around (podium finish times were 2:16 to 2:30) but it definitely rewards you well for coping with how tough it is. The scenery is beautiful, from watching the mist rise off the lake during the swim, through to seeing yachts effortlessly exploring the water as you did the run.
The organisers were as delightful as ever, with the fun atmosphere I’ve grown to expect from Vital Events. I’d love to try this event again, though maybe next time I’ll rest up properly the day before rather than going off on a mile swim.
What would I change for next time? Well if we could move Northumberland a bit further south that would be nice. It took me longer to drive home than it did for the middle distance winner to complete the race.