A one mile swim in a cold, but fresh, Ullswater (13 degrees)… a 36 mile (1,489ft of ascent) ride involving a 4.5km category 1 climb up ‘The Struggle’ (which averages 8% gradient and maxes at 20% in places)… followed by a 9 mile (3,118ft of ascent) run to the top of Helvellyn and back down… Those are the three reasons this is deemed as one of the toughest triathlons in the world.
Brutal ride leg
The ride leg alone is so tough that it was described as ‘brutal’ by some of the Tour of Britain riders who followed us up the next day on stage two of the pro race.
As someone who loves a challenge this race was right up my street. I have to admit though that my training for this race had not been my specific focus for the season, my main focus was the middle distance, and to try and go under 5 hours at the Monster Middle a couple of weeks before.
However, there was no way I could pass on this challenge especially as it was on my birthday. I was confident that the strength gained from the middle distance training would get me through the race and if all went well would hopefully see me make the podium!
OK, so on race day my plan was simply to attack the swim, attack the bike and then hit the run as hard as I could. Due to the lack of ‘fell’ specific training I knew that I could not purely rely on my run, although this is often my best discipline.
Ready, Steady, Go!
The water was cold, but fresh and I was excited to get going – I had panicked at a race a month before where I had a disaster of a swim and I was determined not to let these demons get to me – I aimed to start hard and fast. We turned at the first buoy and I could see that I was mid pack and working through the sea of bodies and green hats. I breathed to my left and I could see that there was another female swimmer, so my aim was to not let her go and to try and get out in front. As we hit the final turning buoy to the finish I put in a spurt and managed to grab a few precious seconds getting out the water as 3rd female overall.
Out of T1 the aim was to get my head down and push hard and never look back as we headed towards the famous ‘Struggle’ which takes you to the top of Kirkstone Pass from Ambleside. Although most of the bike route was TT/Tri bike-friendly I had decided to race on my trusty Ribble R872 as I felt this would give me a greater advantage whilst climbing.
The R872 sure didn’t disappoint, this bike really works with you and certainly holds its own when you really want to pick up the pace. Now I’m not going to say it made climbing up ‘The Struggle’ a breeze, but it certainly made easier work than if I had used my triathlon bike. Climbing can be quite awkward and harder on the legs and I needed every ounce of energy I could save ready to tackle the nine mile run up and down the mountain of Helvellyn.
It was only when I got the top of ‘The Struggle’ with its Tour de France type atmosphere – the support was simply epic and electrifying – that I got information from the crowd that I was the leading female and that there was no one else in sight. That was a very nice surprise as I had still thought I was in third and it gave me a confidence boost as I cautiously descended Kirkstone Pass (not taking any risks) and then pushed hard as the road flattened out to T2 thinking of every second!
Heading into the Helvellyn run…
Trail shoes on and a quick drink and I was ready to hit the run into the unknown world of how I would fare on the fells and not feeling quite as confident as I usually am when I get to the run stage. As I hit the steep ascent towards the ‘hole in the wall’, thoughts started creeping into my head… saying that I was going to be caught and that I would not make It to the top.
At this point I was briskly walking with no response from the legs to try to run, but as I hit the flatter section towards the summit I was able to get my legs moving and I soon found my running rhythm. I then gained a further boost of confidence when I saw my dad just before the final ascent and he informed me that I was still clear of the second placed woman. From this point I knew I had to make it to the top and then give it everything I had down to the finish.
The final ascent is up Swirral Edge which requires the skills of a rock climber more than a runner, but this all added to the fun and the challenge of the race. Finally pulling up with my hands I was relieved to reach the summit and from here I knew it was game on and time to attack the final descent and run into the finish. Pushing hard and back into my running rhythm, the negative thoughts of the ascent had well and truly disappeared and I was now starting to enjoy the moment! I ran towards the finish and even managed to muster up the energy to put in a little sprint finish.
Lifted by the cheers of the crowd I could not help but have a great big smile on my face as I crossed the finish line. I was so relieved to have beaten this gruelling challenge – with the added bonus of bringing home the win!
Winning such an iconic race, it sure was a birthday to remember.
On reflection, I was pleased to see that I had taken the lead on the bike as coming from a run background you can still be seen as a runner playing at triathlon and just relying on your run. However coming out of the water in third place and then putting the fastest bike split in by two minutes it finally looks like I am becoming a COMPLETE triathlete!
So that was a wrap for my triathlon season, I’m now having an end of season break in Australia! Until the new season arrives – embrace… enjoy… and ride with a smile😉