It’s official, I am a rain magnet. Yet again I was lining up for the start of a triathlon in the rain. This was no ordinary triathlon, however. This was “A Day in the Lakes”. This race is, without a doubt, one of the toughest half-ironman races in the UK. With over 3,500 ft of ascent on the bike course, including the massive and steep Kirkstone Pass, and nearly 2,000 ft of ascent on the run, the course is brutal. I was expecting it to be harder than UK Ironman 70.3 held on Exmoor of which I am a 3 time finisher. To compensate for the tough and challenging nature of the course it was taking place in the beautiful Lake District. If only we could have seen it.
The weather forecast was grim – rain until mid-day but with the prospect of some nice weather in the afternoon. There would also be a strong southwesterly blowing up the lake necessitating a shift in the buoys to a more sheltered part of Ullswater. At least the water felt warmer than a few weeks ago in Keswick! In fact, my last swim was at the Keswick triathlon – in my effort to get over the asthma that has been plaguing me all spring I decided not to go near water for fear of aggravating it. This meant that I held no great expectations for the swim. As it turned out, although I was really slow, even by my standards, I quite enjoyed it. I didn’t mind the slight swell and got out of the water in much better shape than at Keswick, despite it being double the distance.
In my planning for the race I had decided I would go very conservatively. I knew it would be tough so with another half-ironman coming up in 3 weeks (Cleveland Steelman), I decided I would take this race fairly slowly and if possible on such a hard course, not go too deep. With that in mind, I ambled through T1 and jumped on my road bike. Again, a look at the weather suggested that the aero bike would be a tricky proposition in the wind and rain. Sure enough, the first section of the ride down the western side of Ullswater was straight into the teeth of a strong wind. It took almost an hour to get to the foot of Kirkstone. I knew that the only way to get up in one piece was to stay well within my capabilities. Towards the top many people were off and walking as the final steep section into the wind and rain proved too much for them. No such issue for me and I even overtook a few as I ground my way up. I took my glasses off at the top as it was raining too hard to see. Although I was soaked through, the temperature wasn’t too cold and I was actually quite enjoying myself. (Tech note: the antifog coating on my Sunwise Hastings glasses that I reviewed a few weeks back performed brilliantly in the grimmest of conditions).
The second half of the bike course still contained plenty of ascent, but none of it steep, and as we turned north towards Shap the headwind became more of a tail/cross. I found myself making decent progress. Once over Shap, the rain abated and the sun tried to breakthrough making the long and steady descent thoroughly enjoyable. Here I found the fact that I was on my road bike a distinct disadvantage. While the compact cranks might have helped up Kirkstone, I could have gone a fair bit faster with higher top gears over the last 20 miles. Unfortunately, 4 miles from T2, the course swung south once more into the headwind making the last simple section much tougher than it might otherwise have been. Still, I arrived in T2 after a reasonably solid bike leg of 3:49. Now for the hard bit.
Surprisingly, I didn’t find the first few miles on the run too difficult. It was steadily uphill all the way and my lower back was not at all happy with life. But I dug in, kept going and even overtook a few folk already walking. After the first hill, the route gently drops across the fellside to the first feed where I paused to drink and eat oranges and flapjack. About a kilometre after the feed the course pointed steeply straight up a hill – far too steep to run. As we gained height we were treated to some stunning views of Ullswater. Once on the top we traversed round the head of a very marshy valley and then began to descend steeply back down towards the feed once again. It required a lot of concentration this deep into a half ironman to descend at any speed at all, but about an hour after leaving the feed we were back, only to find that they had run out of oranges! The thought of them had kept my motivation going over the descent and I was deflated when none were available. Still, flapjack and plenty of water and a welcome sponge would have to do.
Now there was just the 5km of road alongside the lake to finish. I found this gently undulating section to be terribly difficult. All the off road had aggravated my old ankle injury and I had to resort to a jog/walk strategy. Interestingly, from a muscular point of view I didn’t feel too bad, in fact I would go so far as to say I felt in better shape than at most half-ironman races I have done. Were it not for sore ankles I’m sure I could have run the last section. Never mind, I jogged in 7:43:11 in 198th place (I was in 233rd after the swim, so a gain of 35 places).
I have to say that despite the weather I thoroughly enjoyed “A Day in the Lakes”. It was well organised and well marshalled (particular respect should go to the two marshals manning the bike feed on top of Shap Fell – a truly exposed and grim spot in inclement weather). Trihard Events also need to be commended for putting on such a great race for such a cheap price. At ?56 it is one of the cheapest middle distance races in the UK. I only have one tiny gripe: it’s a shame to come away from such a tough event without a medal. I would be happy to pay a few quid on top of the existing entry fee for my memento of a truly memorable “Day in the Lakes”.
An afterword is due to the many fellow COLTs who took part, especially Andy Horn who won the thing in a frankly astonishing 5 hours 9 minutes. Well done all.
All images are courtesy of 9 Bar