The Lakesman Full Distance Triathlon

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An incredible weekend, a performance beyond my expectations but essentially something that only came about because of how weak willed I can be. Weak willed seems a strange label, but I spent years emphatically saying I would never do anything at this distance (actually I spent years saying I would never do a marathon and then had second thoughts after watching Kate do Edinburgh) but after doing the Long Course Weekend in Tenby last year, where you do all three distances on successive days I found myself looking up ‘ironman distance races’ on google and inevitably succumbed within a few days.

I chose this event because of rave reviews about how athlete focussed it was, it’s half the price of the most famous ‘brand’, and frankly if I’m spending all day flogging myself then I’d prefer to do it around the Lakes than round Bolton and Darwen!

Anyway, for once, I practiced what I preach to all the athletes and teams I work with and came up with a good structured and manageable training plan, and I stayed injury free throughout my prep. And on the whole I really enjoyed (most of) the training, although 3 hours flogging yourself on a turbo trainer in mid-winter is definitely best done on a ‘needs must’ basis.

I should also ‘big up’ the TAC juniors who helped sharpen me up during their Thursday night speed sessions during my taper period – thanks kids, it helped this overly competitive dad hugely!

I started doing triathlons four years ago because I did all three disciplines separately anyway and as with most people began with a pool sprint, then decided to try longer events as I thought they would suit me more – but I did have a fear of open water to overcome, but through exposure I’ve managed it and this year I also seemed to have hardened a bit to cold water too.

Right, enough rambling, I’ll move onto the event.

First up on the Saturday was Keswick parkrun with Kate as a final leg stretch, it was a really nice run and the numbers were boosted massively by others from the race doing the same. Next up were the kids’ races – Aggie and Magnus both racing brilliantly in their TAC vests and in front of big, noisy crowds.

After racking my bike and the race briefing there was the Budgie Smuggler Run which has apparently become a Lakesman tradition. Essentially a hundred or so of us stripped off on the shore of Derwentwater in front of bemused day trippers and then after a bit of group chanting and bottom slapping run the few hundred metres back up towards the finish line in dubious swimwear. Great fun.

Then it was the final prep meal, a glass of red, bed and alarm set for 4am ready for the race start at 6 o’clock.

The swim can be summed up in three words, cold, choppy and long! It wasn’t as ‘rough’ as many triathlon starts can be and so I avoided the irritation of getting punched and kicked too much, and I just got in a nice rhythm and kept moving. I saw a nice rainbow come up over Cat Bells and also a couple of people getting rescued by the safety boats unable to cope with the temperature. The last 1km was very difficult as the rising sun meant that we were blinded and had absolutely no idea where the finish was – I even swam straight into a huge inflatable buoy, getting cramp in both legs in the process!

The difficulty navigating meant a bit of zig zag swimming (according to my Garmin I did 4300 metres rather than 3800 metres), but eventually I inadvertently stumbled across the finish arch, got a helping hand from horizontal to vertical and regathered my senses on the trot to transition. A slower time than expected of 1 hour 29 minutes (probably explained by the additional 500 metres) but spirits immediately lifted by spotting Kate, Aggie and Magnus cheering like banshees and waving a Lancashire flag with ‘Happy Father’s Day’ and ‘Don’t Be Shit’ writ large on it.

Transition, where you get out of the wetsuit and into bike shoes etc can be a frantic, speedy affair, but I’d made my mind up to take my time, get dry and warm and put the layers on I needed for the 112 mile bike ride then try and make up any lost ground once out on the road. Seeing reports after the race the medics and volunteers were apparently kept busy in transition with people bordering on hypothermia after the swim so I made the right move.

The bike ride can be summarised in just one word – windy. The route heads out from Keswick, towards the coast then almost a figure of eight route taking you right up to the Solway coast. There were several twitchy moments where a big crosswind hit my front wheel and so there wasn’t really any opportunity to relax on the ride, but I had a roaming contingent of supporters (Kate, Aggie and my mum now) cropping up at random points to keep spirits high and urging me to ‘pedal faster’, which was difficult on the long sections being battered by a headwind. I was passing lots of people throughout the ride though and felt relatively fresh, so was happy I had made up any lost time from the swim and transition and it felt like I’d got my nutrition right, but the proof of that would only come on the run. My rough target for this leg was six and a half hours but I rolled back into transition after 6 hours 6 minutes.

Transition 2 was again a slow, calm affair compared to normal as I needed to get a few compeeds and second skins to somehow stick to my sweaty feet. But eventually I was sorted and trotted out of the tent for the run…

Having only ever done one marathon before I had no idea at all how I was going to cope with this leg and so had no ‘expected’ time for the course, which is 5 laps of a town centre circuit which includes 4 lengths of one road, dubbed the Highway to Hell.

I was calm and just internalising various thoughts ‘it’s just 5 laps’, ‘it’s only 8 slowish parkruns’…then hear “run faster!” Oh look, there are Kate, the kids, my mum and dad again, I may have flicked the V’s but their presence and encouragement at various points round the course was invaluable and a perk of a multi lap course, Kate even ran a bit of one lap with me.

Overall the support round the course was superb and the volunteers and feed stations unstinting in their loud encouragement. With the course being multi lap it meant that I had the ‘perk’ of regularly overtaking people, and in the process trying to count how many coloured wristbands they had, each indicating a completed lap. I found that I felt better than I expected and held my pace consistently throughout and helped a few others who were struggling to get going again.

There were small demons. I was bordering on cramp, but that’s to be expected right? My feet were killing me but I’ve had worse. My stomach was churning, but my body composition was probably about 40% energy gel by this time…oh my word I’m on the last lap!

I was determined to enjoy the last lap and managed to pick up my pace again, thank the volunteers do nothing daft and then soak it up. Kate and the kids met me at the top of the last climb and ran down with me towards the finish, me unusually trying to whip the crowds up a bit, Kate peeled off and I ran down the red carpet hand in hand with Aggie and Magnus the three of us grinning. It’s not a blur, I remember every second of it and it was wonderful.

When I signed up I just wanted to get round, but thought 13 hours would be a reasonable target. If everything went perfectly and the weather conditions were ideal then I toyed with the notion of getting close to 12 hours.
In the end I did the marathon in 3 hours 42 mins giving me a total time of 11 hours, 41 minutes and 26 seconds – truly beyond my wildest dreams, especially given the tough conditions.

For once I am overtly proud of what I’ve done, it’s been hard work to get here, my family have shown unbelievable support and patience but hopefully it’s been worth it for all of us.

I don’t mind admitting that the day after the race I went to the lake for a quiet reflection on the ups and downs in the long road to this point and blubbed like a baby, then looked at my slate medal, smiled and went for a pint.

As the commentator said “Mark you are a Lakesman!” Not shit!

As for the question of “would you do it again” – I’ve already signed up for 2020.

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