After a long season that started back in March, winning the Wasdale Triathlon was the perfect end to a fantastic year of experiences, racing and training in the hills. Maintaining focus and keeping up the training for the 6 weeks leading up to the race was tough but the result proves it was all worth it.
Like I said it had been an amazing season, 2nd place in the High Terrain off road duathlon series, 2nd place at The Celtman and a trip to Colorado to represent Northern Ireland at the World Long Distance Mountain Running Champs. After Colorado I felt a little tired of structured training so took a short break from it but this only left a 3 week build up to the Wasdale Triathlon. I was unsure where my fitness was at in swimming and biking as I had been focused on running for the last 6 weeks. I hoped the base I had built during the season was solid enough to put in some really hard training sessions, crash style specific to the Wasdale course. This paid off and 10 days before the race I knew I was in really good shape for the bike, probally better than I was for the Celtman. I would like to mention I had also started using CurraNZ as a supplement in my training and I feel this really helped with my ability to recover from the sessions and also how hard I could push during them.
I felt as confident and calm as I ever had going into a race. The race plan was to be within 10mins of the leader going onto the run, without riding the bike too hard. Mountain running is my strength and the technical, rough terrain during the run would really suit me.
It looked like a great forcast for the day, next to no wind, no rain, just low cloud on the tops . It was great to meet a few fellow Celtmen (Thor and Francois) at the start. These races really do bring a sense of cameraderie often missing from many other races. Mark decided to put me on the spot at the breifing and asked me what my finishing time would be. I replied 6.55hrs and was confident I could get close.
The swim did not go according to plan exactly. The water was pretty warm for Wasdale, around 14 degrees so cold water was not an issue. As I touched the buoy on the out and back course and turned swim back, I swam straight into the 100 or so swimmers still coming my way! It was chaos and I had to stop, get my bearings and breath back then start swimming again. I came into T1 knowing I had not had a great swim and a little angry. I have learnt that I race well well with a little anger so channeled it into the rest of the race.
Out on the bike I knew I was feeling good and in control. Hardknott (33%!!) is the first test, I stayed in the saddle, kept my HR down and felt good the whole way up. The passes always feel tough and a real challenge so it was great to be feeling strong. I had planned to make the most of the flatter/rolling sections and take it steady as possible on the climbs. The rest of the climbs went by in much the same way, apart from the top section of Wrynose on the return leg! Like last year I suffered, its such a sustained and long effort and really does never get any easier. I picked up a refill from the amazing bottle drop at the top of Hardknott (thanks Guys!! great job:)) and was glad to reach the bottom. I am not a great fan of descending the passes, especially when racing so always have a great sense of relief when I know they are out of the way. They are steep and the surface is terrible in places. Adds to the sense of adventure for the day out though.
Part two of my bike plan was to push hard until Gosforth. The course is flat to rolling with a few short climbs and I felt I could make time here and it played to my strengths on the bike. From Gosforth back to Wasdale Head it was time to dial it down and get the legs ready for the run. I knew I was around 6th place here and coming into T2 I saw a few others just leaving, Perfect!
No need to mess around in transition, sock on, La Sportiva Bushidos on and out onto the climb to Styhead and Scafel Pike. I felt good as the climb steepened and just kept my rythm, tapping it out and limiting walking only to steep rock sections, part one of the run plan. The hamstring cramps of last year were non existent and I passed quite a few people by the time I reached Styhead and was in 3rd place. Little did I know one of the runners in front was a relay team. Another competitor and I reached Scafel Pike at the same time, we had been together from Styhead. I touched the cairn on the top and executed run plan part two. Unfortunatly it did not go exactly to plan!
I had planned to lose anyone that was close on the descent to Mickledore, the steepest, roughest part of the course and then push hard in the scrambly terrain of foxs gully till the top of Scafel. It was then gently downhill with a few technical sections. I had looked on the way up for the crucial split in the path and spotted it. On the way down I decided to ignore it! I came right back down, realised my mistake and looks across to Mickledore and saw nothing but crags. The only way was back up and a short traverse to the correct path. For a split second I thought I had blown it and considered just running back down and quitting. Only for a split second though. Never ever quit (thanks Stuart!) rang through my head and I powered back up the hill and smashed the descent into Mickledore, using that little bit of anger again. I asked Steve who was taking photos in the gully how many in front and he replied one! That is why we never give up and keep fighting. At the bottom of the gully I loked down and saw a bunch of guys at the foot.
I pushed as hard as I could to the top and Scafel and hammered the descent all the way to Stony tarn. Cramps started to kick in but I still pushed. I remember looking back up Scafell and Slightside and seeing no one. A marshal (thanks Kate!) had told me one other competitor was in front, she thought they were a relay runner but was not sure. Again I ran all the way to Burnmoor tarn, willing the cramps not to end my race and looked back. No one. I could not see anyone in front either but the thought of a sub 7hr finish kept me going to the end. I felt so much stronger than at this point last year.
Crossing the finish line I realised someone else had finished in front. I did not realise I had won until I asked Mark a minute or two after crossing the finish line! My brain was probably a little addled. A belated celebration and I felt a few tears welled up. To win this race, in my local area on the mountains I have loved and enjoyed in so many ways, so much for the last ten years was a dream come true.
It was great to spend a bit of time at the finish line welcoming and meeting other competitors as they finished there epic day in the mountains. Lots of great people and it was a pleasure to meet them and here some of their story. Some real epics out there and everyone had the same attitude, keep fighting till the finish line.
Massive thank you to the team at Wasdale, all the amazing marshalls on the hill your friendly faces made all the difference on the day.
Also thanks you to TrecNutrition, PushCartel, Zone3Wetsuits, LaSportiva, Julbo and CurraNZ health for your support so during this season, it makes such a difference having such amazing race kit and nutrition. I can then concentrate on the training and racing. Also my amazing support and media team www.movieit.co.uk :)