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The Brutal Half

It’s been oh so quiet … Since Itera I have not been doing much. I learnt my lessons after the last expedition race I did (the Terrex in 2010) and this time I wasn’t getting back into anything too quickly. So I spent 3 whole weeks eating, sleeping, pottering to work on my bike and not much else.

When I did my event planning for the year, I thought perhaps I could combine Itera training with iron-distance triathlon training. So I kept my eye on an event near my dad’s house in Llanberis 5 weeks after Itera, which I could enter at the last minute providing I had recovered well and was feeling fit.

As it turns out, I did recover well, and managed a good strong week of training after my 3 weeks of recovery. But the event I had in mind (the Brutal) wasn’t just normal iron-distance; the run had large chunks off road and finished with a run up and down Snowdon with a buddy. To be honest, I didn’t have the motivation to race that hard for that long and face another few weeks of tiredness. I hadn’t done any specific training and was feeling pretty satisfied with the year from a ‘big race’ perspective. I was also starting to feel good again and had my eye on quite a few events for the rest of the year!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

Is it me, or is it still quite dark?!

So instead I entered the ‘half’. Half the distance, half the laps (I’m not a big fan of laps), half the price and I could run Snowdon at the end by myself. I innocently thought I could just bash this one out, feel good for the rest of the weekend and carry on uninterrupted 🙂 .

On Friday we ended up walking down through the woods to town twice, once to register and once for the briefing and to set up kit in the transition marquee. I managed to get a lift back up the hill twice though, despite my dad’s poorly leg!

The first ‘brutal’ part of the event was the start time. I set off from my dad’s house to pedal down the hill at 05:25. Urgghh! It was still dark and the road was twisty and gravelly. I stayed safe though and had plenty of time to find a space to rack my bike (it was pick your own spot, I went for last rack, second frog from the end) and double check all was still as I left it in the tent. We each had our own chair – very unusual! But this event not only had people out doing the full distance, but also some doing double that again, and not finishing until late on Sunday. OK, I admit, as well as debating between full and half I did also consider the double … but sense got the better of me.

The lake wasn’t cold for the swim, about 16ºC. My main problem was not having worn a wetsuit since my last triathlon on 29th June and having done just three swim sessions since the end of July, 8 weeks before. My arms felt constricted and a bit heavy, but I got on with it. We were confused at the first turn by all the orange buoys – which one was ours?! I swam a bendy line but got back on track. Two laps later and just 2 minutes slower than I had planned I was running across the field into transition.

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Getting in. Last time I did this here it was midday, sunny and I was not in a wetsuit!

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 - halfway there

Me going round the buoy at the end of lap 1 – halfway there

A quick changeover and I set off on the bike, with Andy cheering. About 200m later I was still feeling a bit weebly wobbly from the swim, was worrying about whether I should have tucked my jersey under my race belt and noticing I could see the lake on my right and thinking I might be able to glimpse long course swimmers. Next thing, I looked up to see I was heading towards the kerb at high speed. There was a wobble, I don’t know exactly what happened, but I knew I was going down. Smash! I catapulted head first onto the pavement. My immediate thought was ‘I’ve hit my head, I’ll have to stop’, immediately followed by things such as: Is my new jersey ripped? Are my shorts OK? I’ve dropped a bar. There’s blood. No broken bones. Lucky I wore gloves else my hand would be full of holes. I’m not unconscious. Is the bike working?

Transitioning out of the high class event marquee

Transitioning out of the high class marquee

Pretty quickly I was astride my bike, tucking my jersey in (didn’t need that thought distracting me again) and cautiously pedalling along the course, away from transition. My tri bars were a bit askance, but usable. My arm hurt to rest on them, but was bearable. My elbow and knee were bleeding, but moving. There were no holes in my clothes. The brakes and gears were working. I carried on. The next 25 minutes were slightly hesitant. I ate and drank and monitored myself, especially when I saw a few stars. But then I decided, if I’m still doing this, I need to get on with it. I started to watch my speed and keep the power up.

Each lap had a flat bit, a short sharp up and down then a long ride along the beautiful valley from Waunfawr to Beddgelert. Then there followed a long steady climb. As my dad has told me, it was graded for a horse and carriage, so you can ride a lot of it on your tri bars in something other than your lowest gear. Over the top and it’s a fast, twisty descent back to the start. I had to do 2 laps.

At the start of the first long climb I had just caught another girl. I ate a bit and planned to ride past on the climb. But she pulled away!! I lost her somewhere over the descent, but she must have paused as she went round for lap 2, perhaps to pick up a bottle, because she popped out just in front of me again. I came past and opened a gap but then there were traffic lights on red. She caught up and went by on the hill. I decided to just work at my own pace along the valley and keep her in sight. Although the gap between us varied a bit, it was never more than about 100m.

I assumed she would go again on the climb, but I think she had worked harder knowing I was there this time and was perhaps a bit more tired. In fact, the results say we both went faster the second time around! I was holding the distance between us, and then somehow managed to catch her. We exchanged a few amicable words, then I passed and came into transition with a slender 1:20 lead.

Still riding, and upright this time

Still riding, and upright now

The first part of the run was round the lake. It was flat on the first side, then up a steep road and into the woods, with variable gradients and surfaces. Andy jogged next to me for a couple of minutes, which was nice.  I was in a lot of pain as I’d had stomach cramps since the end of the swim. Sometimes this happens and I don’t know why. It wasn’t because I’d eaten gels and bars either! I’d had two bananas, a big square of sticky rice cake, a porridge bite, a mouthful of a bread thing and water and Nuun (electrolyte solution). I could hardly stand upright but eventually it eased as I ran along the lake shore. As I slowed to go through a gate I realised I was quite dizzy … I had another porridge bite and then a bit later a gel. I was gasping for water but expected the feed station as we turned off the road.

The girl I had overtaken on the bike caught me up on the road hill. She was looking bouncy and I was dying! I know running is not my forte, so had expected to be caught given how well she climbed on a bike. I had no choice but to let her go. At the feed station I gulped 2 cups of water and 1 of squash and felt better. Running back to the transition field I was actually feeling OK!

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

The easy way up, explicitly forbidden at race briefing

To go up on the mountain, we had to carry compulsory kit and pass a medical check. As I ran in, I was asked ‘do you need to see the medic?’ I assumed this meant, ‘are you ready to go up the hill?’. I looked confused and said ‘but don’t I need to get my mountain bag first?’ (as this also got a quick check). Back came the reply ‘you’re bleeding!!’. Oh yeah, I’d forgotten about that. But the blood had mostly dried up by now and I was on a mission. I got my bag and went for my official check. The medic asked me more than once … are you sure you don’t want it treated? … But I said no, it had been like that for 4.5 hours already, it could wait a couple more. I was allowed to go!

Tired and bloodied!

Tired and bloodied!

On the lower slopes I was sweating profusely and very glad it was an overcast day. Andy appeared again for a bit and gave me some encouraging words. After he had gone, Kev (another racer) caught up with me and very kindly accompanied me to the top. He had done this event last year and could give me pointers on what was coming up and how fast to expect to do it. He also kept me motivated to move when I felt like stopping (as I didn’t want to slow him down) and checked I was alright in woozy moments. I felt a bit sick but also realised that tripping over my feet and the dizziness when I paused were due to lack of food, so I made myself eat some more.

We overtook crowds of tourists, including someone in a onesie. Really? There were cigarette butts on the floor, and Kev remarked he wasn’t sure if he was impressed or horrified. People kept asking me if I was alright and I kept thinking I must look dreadful, until I remembered the blood all over my leg. We didn’t run for long as it got pretty steep and my legs were tired. My calves were also threatening to cramp and I was extremely grateful that I had taken my poles with me! Given how I felt when I stopped using them to eat I definitely know they were helping.

Ascending into the mists

Ascending into the mists

Because you come back the same way you go up, you can see where everyone else is. After we saw the leading lady going down, it took us 6 minutes to get to the top. It was quite cold and wet, as the cloud and fog were heavy. I told Kev to go down at his own pace. I know my descending isn’t great. I wasn’t giving up though, as visions of being caught in the Coniston race played on my mind and Andy had told me off earlier and said not to settle for ‘third is OK’. 3 minutes after I’d turned, I saw the next lady going up. We said hello, and I wondered how much faster going down was than up!

Now I knew I had to go for it. This was one of my aims for the race. I wanted to remember how it felt running off the Brecon Beacons on a tow behind Sam at Itera. If I could do it then on day 5 with blisters, I could do it now for sure! Off I went and actually kept Kev in sight all the way. I passed the halfway house. I almost got calf cramp again, several times. I almost face-planted, but didn’t. I reached the road. Still only one person had come by.

I allowed myself to check over my shoulder and could see ‘someone’ about 200m behind. I was determined not to give in, and my poles click-clacked on the steep road. We reached the first row of houses and it was maybe only 300m to go. I nearly got cramp again! So I had to moderate my speed and try and work out how to land and pick up my foot not to set it off. Then there was the finish archway, and I was under and I was second. Yay!

Flat out

Flat out

Compared to my target times I had done alright. A couple of minutes down on the swim (due to lack of specific training), and a few more on the bike (due to crash, cramps, lack of ‘fast’ riding recently and fighting a bug the previous week, I think). My lake run lap was spot on target. My mountain run was much slower – but I had underestimated the difficulty! It didn’t stop me being proud of my descent and of holding my time compared to 3rd. Interestingly, my overall placing for the mountain was lower than for the rest of the race, but 10 minutes would have lifted my place for ‘Snowdon only’ by 16 spots. People’s times on this section were close together. My race against 1st was lost on the run, but my race against 3rd was won on the swim.

Everything hurts

Everything hurts

Now I only had the matter of getting up off the floor and seeing the medic. ‘Pouch’ did a fantastic job of checking for broken bones then patiently cleaning and bandaging my wounds before I hobbled home. The next day I could hardly move. This was a combination of all the bumps and bruises (road rash, holes and scratches on my left shin, knee, hip, arm and shoulder and right arm and elbow), stiff tummy muscles from the cramps on the bike and all the usual soreness from running up and down a big mountain! Never has getting dressed and standing up and down been so difficult. Lesson learnt: pay attention to where you’re going on a bike and don’t underestimate the difficulty of a 7.5h long event called ‘Brutal’, even if it is only ‘half’ of something! 😀

Thanks Pouch!

Thanks Pouch!

Many thanks to Brutal Events for putting on an event with such a great atmosphere. Also to Andy Kirkland for the photographs (click on the link for a gory knee close up shot)!

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Celtman – The Race

After months of training and anticipation the Celtman finally landed on Saturday. Although it actually felt like it started on Wednesday, when two of my supporters (mum and Andy) arrived and I had the stress of kit checking and packing. Kate turned up on Thursday looking remarkably bright, given she had left home at about 5am!

It was a long drive north, but we took the scenic route and got to Torridon just in time to register. There were lots of people I knew milling around, which was comforting.

We headed back to the B&B which had awesome views of Loch Shieldaig and was very comfortably appointed. Andy decided to test the water temperature in his underpants and stayed in all of about 10 seconds. Not very encouraging!

At breakfast on Friday we bumped into Izzy, who was staying the night before moving to a cottage with some other people form the club. Upstairs from us there was a French family – the dad Eric was also racing. We had booked a dinner from our obliging hosts and when we wandered in we found yet more people we knew doing the race already happily munching! I wonder whether there was anyone staying in the villages who wasn’t a Celtman racer or supporter that weekend?!

A ‘quick trip’ round to Applecross for lunch on Friday was probably a mistake as it tired the drivers out, though I was happily admiring the views :-). We ended up racing to the briefing, arriving 1 minute before it started! The only thing my mum noted down was the name of the nearest hospital …

More kit checking and logistics back at the B&B and by then it was all getting a bit much. I was glad to get into bed, but I felt bloated and like I had eaten too much. During the night I imagined my feet were hurting, my head was thumping and I was coming down with a dreadful lurgy. At 3am the alarm went off and I leapt up. Somehow I got my contact lenses in and ate some muesli before venturing out to sign on, rack the bike and get on the coaches to the start.

I sat next to a friendly Norwegian who mused about how bad the ‘midgets’ were and how cold the water might be. There was a long wait at the beach but it passed quickly, chatting to people I knew and being interviewed by the Adventure Show crew. By the time I got to the water it was minutes from the start time and I hardly made the line before the klaxon went off! The swim was shortened to about 3.2km due to the cold, so we struck straight out for the other side.

First shock of the day – the sea was full of jellyfish! I have a bit of a thing about jellyfish, and squealed a few times when I hit one with my feet or they floated up near my face. As usual I started at the back, and spent the whole time moving up the field. Every time I tried to draft someone I would overtake, be drafted for a bit, then move on to the next person. That is, when I wasn’t veering wide to get a nice clear view of where I was going!

My day-long tummy problems started halfway over when that muesli nearly came back up – and every time I swallowed a mouthful of salty water I nearly gagged. Still, it was a race so I kept going. I was 22nd out of the swim, which was pretty good.

After the transition my supporters went to relax over some brekkie for a bit, whilst I set about cycling 202km. I felt really nauseous for at least 20 minutes and was convinced this had never happened to me before. Then I remembered it has happened at least twice before on a swim to bike transition! After a while I settled down, probably too much, as I covered the first 60km at 30km/h.

 

By this point I was running low on fluids and desperate for my support crew to arrive. When they did I was so relieved! This gave me a temporary boost, until I started getting terrible stomach cramps. I also really needed to pee, and had to stop. This pattern continued for the next 5 hours! The cramps were like nothing I’ve experienced before – I was doubled over whilst still trying to pedal and I still have sore tummy muscles 3 days later! Still, I got into a more sustainable pace and really enjoyed the longer climbs and descents in the second half of the course. I was also lucky to be playing leapfrog with Izzy as it kept me motivated and meant I had her supporters cheering as well as mine :-).

At T2 it was chaos. People were shouting, a car reversed into our boot lid which was up in the air, I chucked a sock onto a burning midge candle in the back of the car and midges landed in their hordes! I was glad to get away, and even more glad of the portaloo. That job done and standing upright again at last and my stomach felt a hundred times better. I set off running up the hill, swigging a Frijj and with Andy on his mountain bike. It was great to have company and someone to natter to again 😀 .

The scenery was lovely, and I cheered Izzy on as she passed on the downhill, thinking that was the last I would see her. The last 5km along a tarmac section was tough going, and when I arrived at T2A I was very glad to switch to walking. The first section had been 18km, which is about the furthest I’ve run in one go in recent times – and that’s only been in adventure races!

Now Kate joined me and we set up off the hill, me with my walking poles and a new companion to chat to. It was fun hearing tales of the supporters’ day in the car and some of their crazy overtaking and reversing antics! Kate asked me if I was eating and my answer must have sounded highly unconvincing as from then on she kept taking food off me and giving it back to me in bite size morsels at regular intervals – often directly into my mouth, so I had no excuse!

We passed the people from the Adventure Show again and I did another interview, this time on the move. I tried to think of something intelligent to say, other than ‘it’s amazing, fantastic’! Kate said I was too articulate to be working hard enough and kept the pace up afterwards! It was just after this we passed Izzy again. I was surprised, but I think ups are my forte, and maybe my adventure racing experience was good for me here.

The tops and the ridge were covered in dense fog. As I kept telling anyone who would listen, Kate is a top mountain marathoner, and knows what she’s doing when it comes to mountains and route finding! We negotiated the elusive sheeptrack to cut a little uphill corner, got straight to the peak, down the scree and across the boulder fields. At this point we had a little trail of people following us; I think we all knew we were onto a good thing! It was also fun to have new company and it spurred me on to keep the pace up a little bit. When I checked the gps it was 17km to go. My heart fell that it was so far – but then I thought about the fact that was still less than the first leg, and I felt better.

 

As the road neared we could hear cheering and it was very exciting. Andy was there with a group of others, who had apparently been hanging around for hours! I threw my bag to him as I didn’t need to carry it any more, but ignored him yelling at me to give up my poles as well. I can be Nordic and ‘European’ as Kate put it … we set off plodding and the endless view down the road depressed me. Then Andy reappeared and said Izzy was just 4 minutes behind. This had a magic effect on me as I’ll always put up a fight at the end of a race :-).

Kate ran in front of me so I could draft in the headwind, whilst I shouted things like “Faster! No, not that fast! You’re dropping me! Now, faster again!” I also whacked her with my poles as I drifted off my line (I was tired) and kicked her heels with my toes when the pace wasn’t quite right. She endured all this without a word of complaint as we blasted back into Torridon. Eric at breakfast the next day was very proud of his 40 minute final run, until I told him I had done it in 36! Mind you, he did finish 1h40m ahead of me :D.

Amazingly, I think I finished 52nd on the run, compared to 60th on the bike, which just goes to show maybe I’m not so bad at running any more, at least, when it involves mountains and comes at the end of a very long day ;-).

Overall, I was 2nd female (54th overall out of 128 starters) and finished in 16 hours and 23 seconds. I was over the moon, as this was way beyond my expectations going into the race. Izzy was 3rd female, and it was great to have another clubmate in the top 3. I think we probably spurred each other on. Elizabeth was the last person to make the high mountain cut off (with a minute to spare), but stormed over the hill overtaking more than 20 people! All nine girls finished and it was great to all get a mention and applause at the ceremony on Sunday. Full results.

The overall winners were Alex Glasgow (12:09:48) and Susanne Buckenlei (13:55:33 – what a machine!).

I can’t thank my supporters enough. For what they put up with on a very long day, with all their driving, pandering to my every need (I don’t get this sort of pampering on an adventure race), accompanying me on various legs and cheering loudly! My mum presented me with a gold chocolate medal and a signed certificate, which was a lovely touch. Also to my coach for getting me through the training and everyone who was there from ERC, racing and supporting, plus various other people I have only met in the last few weeks who were so friendly and welcoming.

Lastly to the organisers, including Stuart McInnes and Paul McGreal, for putting on a great race!

Epilogue: After driving hundreds of kilometres over the weekend, the car broke down 3km from home. My mum was driving, we called out the AA on Kate’s policy, it was my mate’s car … but he was in Croatia. Andy said it was nothing to do with him. The AA man took all this in his stride and told us we needed to find the towing eye somewhere under the mountain of luggage in the boot. Amazingly, we succeeded. But as I sat up front in the big yellow van, and Kate steered the Doblo behind, she realised that yet again she was finishing a race being towed around like a medium dog …..

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