Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Slateman Triathlon (or Wetsuit for Sale)

Sunday 19th May, at 10:25am and I’m standing up to my knees in freezing cold water with my feet encased in an old pair of socks resting on some evil mixture of mud and rotting vegetation waiting for a horn to sound, wondering whatever induced me to come here.

In 2011 I foolishly got a desire to attempt a triathlon, followed by some others and culminating in the purchase of a second-hand wetsuit to attempt the open water swim in the Bideford Triathlon. Even on the hottest day of the year (in October) it wasn’t that warm in the water, but memory fades quite quickly, and after watching it on TV I decided that I could attempt the Slateman Triathlon in North Wales. I even stupidly ignored the fact that the swim that year, had been cut from 1000m to 750m due to the cold conditions, but last year was a poor year and it was going to be better this year, wasn't it? Well after a miserable, cold winter during which I hardly got out on the bike at all, I decided I wasn't fit enough to attempt the 60K bike course, so asked to be changed to the sprint event. (400m swim, 20K bike and 6K run). This seemed a lot more achievable. We booked B&B in Llandudno, ok it was a few miles from the race, but it was No 1 on a tripadvisor list, and was a very nice place. We got the last room available. So we were on the 4th floor, and there were 63 stairs down to the breakfast room in the basement!!

We spent Saturday driving round Anglesey as heavy rain had been forecast, but none actually appeared, went bird-watching (as we do), caught a brief glimpse of two puffins, and saw hundreds of razorbills etc. Then back to check the weather forecast and pack the equipment. But there seemed to be a problem, the weather was being forecast as dry and sunny – surely some mistake !! Anyway I packed various items of warm clothing in my box just in case. Up early the next morning for a bowl of cereal, our hosts had even offered to make us rolls in lieu of the cooked breakfast. And even after Richard had insisted on washing all the seagull droppings off the car we still arrived in good time. Set up in transition, ignored the safety briefing (oops, don’t tell the organiser), but I needed the loo and didn't want to use the wetsuit.

The main event started first with the fastest athletes going off at 9:30am, followed by three more waves at 10 minute intervals. Eventually it was time to force myself into the wetsuit and nervously wait for my turn to start at 10:30am. Well after all the practice swimming laps of the pool, I thought I would be OK. I’d even counted roughly how many strokes it would take, but I still couldn't get my face to go in the water, so ended up doing breast stroke with my head up again. I started off near the back, and hadn't gone very far when the competitor on my right raised his hand and needed to be rescued from the water. They have plenty of marshals in boats ready for this, and it did cross my mind for brief moment to do the same. But I plodded on, aware of the field pulling away in front of me, but with a glimpse of a few white hats nearby. Without my glasses, the hats and the red buoys for the turns was all I could see. Three hundred strokes later and the boat is alongside, and I can hear encouraging words, but still I can’t see, “left a bit”, “straight on”, “right a bit”, “just past the black buoy”. I can’t see it, so she guides me towards the finish, then I get cramp in my right leg, and can’t move it, so swim with just my left leg. Then my feet touch the mud, but I can’t stand up so paddle forward a bit more, then hop and paddle and finally I’m on dry land. Richard is there and unhooks the Velcro on the wetsuit zip, but I concentrate on just running up to the transition. It’s about 200 yards, and I can’t see much without my glasses, but I ran it yesterday so pretty sure I can find my bike. Then it’s off with the wetsuit, or rather it isn't as the old socks and the timing chip are all tangled together with the leg of the suit and it takes several attempts to extricate myself. (Which causes some amusement for the spectators just the other side of the barrier). Luckily all this effort seems to have brought some circulation back to my hands, and I get my red cycling jacket, shoes, helmet, and gloves on and set off on the bike.

By now the sun is starting to come out, and the course is only slightly undulating at the start. So I’m feeling much better already. However it’s not far before we’re starting the long incline up to the top of the Llanberis Pass. I’d heard this mentioned in hushed tones, so was suitably apprehensive and had carefully avoided driving anywhere near it. However it’s not that steep, there’s plenty of steeper hills round here, but it’s just relentless. About 4 miles just continuously going up. The road winds a bit so a line of cyclists can be seen ahead, some moving very slowly or even walking. Coming round one bend I hear the unmistakeable sound of a cuckoo, and I’m starting to pass quite a few of the cyclists. And then ahead it’s the top of the pass, people cheering and the joy of descending the other side is only slightly tempered by the thought of the climb back up on the return. Meanwhile a Llanberis Mountain Rescue vehicle has whizzed past, followed by other “blue-light” emergency vehicles. As I come down and round a bend I spot the reason, someone – I think it’s a motorcyclist, not a competitor, has had a nasty accident. A sobering moment, and I take it a bit more carefully on the bends. Turn left at a junction, turn in a lay-by and the sprint competitors go back the way they came. The casualty is still lying on the ground, but the face isn't covered so that’s a good sign. Back up to the top of the pass, not far this side, then it’s the long downhill back in to Llanberis village. I can see only one competitor in front and I’m keeping up with him. Then back into transition. My box is a mess, I can’t find my hat, and when I do the fastening has come undone, never mind, I perch it on top of my head, and I’m out on to the run. The sun is out and it’s becoming warm.

The track in the grassy field becomes a tarmac road and I slow down to adjust my hat, hearing a bystander laughingly saying “I thought it was a sprint”, his wife hits him and I continue up the steep hill. This rapidly becomes a rough track with plenty of stones, boulders and tree roots. I've passed a few runners and am now on my own. I’m reminded of bits of the Haytor, Race the Train, and anything on Exmoor. I convince myself I've done plenty that has been harder, but my legs are definitely starting to complain. Suddenly there are loads of competitors around and I realise the long course has joined the route, but they are much faster than me, and I obligingly let them past. It’s good to have someone to follow. We’re now going downhill and soon the trail is back on tarmac and then a gravelly track with a “400m to go” sign. Joy!!! This is so similar to the finish at the NDVM. I’m counting down paces, I suddenly hear Richard cheering me on, and there’s the finish, I've made it. I collect my slate coaster (what else ?), grab a handful of biscuits, chocolate etc and Richard’s there to meet me. And the sun is still shining.

The official review of the race is at http://alwaysaimhighevents.com/triathlons/latest-news And the results are at: http://www.tdl.ltd.uk/race-results.php?event=1331

Saturday, May 18, 2013


By Dave Webb
Last time I mentioned that we are organising a series of 5K races in Poundbury this summer, on the last Wednesday evening of each month. This process is more complicated than you might think. First, we had to identify a 1K lap that could be safely run 5 times. A group of us could therefore be seen on a Sunday morning, running round and round the pavements and paths of Poundbury. After 9 different attempts, and much inspection of GPS devices, we had worked up a decent sweat but still hadn’t nailed it. Finally Dave Butt found a route which has now been verified by an official UK Athletics measurer, ie a man from Weymouth with a carefully calibrated bicycle.

This prolonged winter has been a test of our determination and commitment, especially when running into what Thomas Hardy called the ‘atmospheric cutlery’ of an easterly wind. Several club members braved an early start and a wicked wind-chill to run in the Yeovil Half-Marathon, where both Spencers posted good times, and Neil Goode set a personal best. Earlier in March, after heavy rain, the Great Western 10K presented a different challenge. The route took in some very muddy fields which Dave Butt reported as being like trying to run in lead boots. Andy Staples passed a runner who had stopped and was poking about in the mud. It turned out that he had lost a shoe, which was swallowed up by the greedy ground and never seen again.

Sticking with the footwear theme, some readers may have heard of some new high-tech running shoes that can speak. So far they have been programmed to say things like ‘Well done, you’re running well today’, and ‘How good to feel the wind through my laces’. This month’s running question asks what other phrases these shoes should be programmed to say. My co-panellist, Mr Les Knott-Bother, offered a choice of pithy phrases, not all of them repeatable in a church magazine. One of his typical suggestions was for the shoes to yell ‘Sit down, you fool, and put me back in the cupboard’. For my part, I would welcome any words of encouragement, and I suspect that the runner who lost his shoe would also like the shoes to be able to say something along the lines of ‘Help! Help! I’m being sucked into the muddy mouth of the mighty maelstrom’.

The main event of the past month has been the club’s annual Johnny Kipps race. The winner receives not only the glory, but also the hallowed trophy that has now been used for more than 20 years. To the untrained eye the trophy may resemble a biscuit tin, but closer inspection shows that it is inscribed with the words ‘La boite de Johnny Kipps…the true essence of Maiden Newton Runners’, embossed in felt-tip pen on a stylish cardboard mount. Tradition demands that the trophy is filled with biscuits by the previous year’s winner. This year the trophy returned to the Lascelles household when Martin was first home in a very speedy time of 38.22, ahead of 12 other runners. Other notable performances included Jackie Webb taking the first lady spot, and Tara England winning the first dog prize, having dragged Phil round the 6-mile route.

By the time you read this, the fastest hairdresser in the west, Charlie Spencer, will hopefully have completed the London Marathon. I hope she followed the advice of that well known athletics expert, William Shakespeare, whose friar in Romeo and Juliet provided words that could also serve as our club motto: ‘Wisely and slow! They stumble that run fast’.