My mum decided that if there was one race I needed support at this year, it was this one. I think she was right! After following a rigorous training plan (ahem), I was all set to go on my last big race of the summer.
It all started at the sort of time in the morning that no-one should be awake. Unbelievably, the nice lady at the B&B seemed to think nothing of getting up to give us breakfast at 5.45am! I ate my muesli and toast unenthusiastically and then headed down to the main transition areas to set up my kit. By 6.45 I had my wetsuit on and was as ready to go as I ever would be, but it still wasn’t really light and we weren’t allowed in the water yet.
I had written off the swim as unimportant in the grand scheme of things; if it was only going to be half an hour, and the rest took about 9.5 hours, then it wouldn’t really matter, right? In the end, I was proved wrong and I am very glad that I took it seriously and put a bit of effort in. After my recent dip in Threipmuir Reservoir last week, I found the water to be ‘quite warm’ and ‘lovely and clear’ ;-). I didn’t do too badly at following other people’s feet for a while and I even struck a lead out through the mass of half-distance competitors who set off just as we rounded the buoy for our second lap. I bridged the gap to the front swimmers up ahead then got out of the water in 9th, with just one other girl already in transition.
This started off up a long road climb. Easy enough. Then we branched off onto a deceptive track that looked easier than it felt – some people were already walking, and the fine, sandy sort of surface mixed with little rocks took effort to ride over. However, it was all rewarded with a swoopy fast and fun downhill trail :D. What comes down must go up, and this was followed by a seemingly endless undulating fireroad climb. It was here on the first lap that the eventual female winner, Hannah Barnes, overtook me. I tried to keep up for a while which was an interesting lesson – we were the same speed up the hills but she kept getting away on the downs because she carried on pedalling – isn’t that cheating?!
I felt rather queasy – I think this is an effect of swimming then biking. Or maybe swimming in a wetsuit and then biking. In any case, I couldn’t eat anything until after a short technical section of trail down through some mushroom woods to a road. A banana was scoffed as I spun my legs out down to the start of lap 2. It was unfortunate that by this point I already felt really tired, because I wasn’t even halfway! The other laps passed fairly uneventfully, except for a tumble on the technical section and noisy brakes. I kept the speed up and played yo-yo with three other racers.
Ben Nevis loomed ominously above, mostly shrouded in swirling clouds. I tried not to think about it too much.
As well as taking photos and cheering me on, my mum was letting me know where the other girls were. My main aim for this race was to get under 10 hours, but if I could get on the podium as well it would be a bonus. I finished the bike still in 2nd place, but Marie was hot on my heels, maintaining the gap at only about 12 minutes. I was scared of the run, but tried to tell myself I wasn’t too bad on the ups, just the downs, and maybe I could hold it together.
I had been warned that the run was more of a walk than a run, so I set off rather nervously. I managed to keep some sort of jog going to perhaps a third of the way up, when the gradient got too steep and I got too tired. One of the half-distance guys passed and cheerfully told me it was still ‘miles and miles’ to go, but to ‘keep going anyway!’ – no deceiving ‘nearly there’ platitudes :-). I’m not sure it was wise to push on so hard as I felt rather spaced out approaching mid-way and the start of the scree slope. I’m grateful to Matt, another competitor who had caught me up and kept me company for some time before pulling away to the summit. I was getting colder and colder and with the advice of a friend ringing in my ears, I finally stopped to don my waterproof, woolly hat and thick gloves. Eventually I made it to the top, though I somehow missed the path and veered rather close to some very steep cliffs, which alarmed the marshals! Then the sun came out, I glimpsed some amazing views and it was back to running.
Just 6 minutes after I left the top, Marie passed me going the other way, so I knew I didn’t have much of a gap and was just as brave as I could be on the descent. I started feeling stones prodding the soles of my feet, which I thought was weird until closer inspection showed that my shoe had fallen apart! I kept pushing on, taking the shortcuts, and trying to dodge the hordes of charity walkers spread across the path. Just as I emerged onto the road at the bottom Marie caught me up! I grabbed a cup of water (I had run out of drink), and set off after her. She was suffering a bit from cramp and I felt sorry for her, but I couldn’t give up after all this time! I dug deep and ‘sprinted’ onwards for the last 3km, opening a small gap. This last effort totally finished me off and I collapsed over the finish line making some very strange noises.
Marie came in 2 minutes later, all credit to her for her performance. And so it was that the 7.5 minutes I had gained in the swim stage 10 hours earlier came to give me second place on the podium. Hurrah! Hannah thrashed us both, finishing in 8h25m and beating all but 4 men. The statistics tell me everything about which part of which discipline needs serious work …
This ranks up there as one of the hardest races I’ve ever done. It was also one of the friendliest – when else would the leader high five you on their way past back to the finish?! If you want a challenge to test you to your limits I would highly recommend this race. If you can get someone to give you moral support and drive your aching body home, all the better!