Mid Wales Ultra 2008

MidWalesFinishTime: 18:45
Swim (~1.8km): 25 mins
T1: 35 mins
Bike (166 miles): 11h (10h Ride time)
T2: 10 mins
Run (32 miles): 6:35
Jo and I were 2nd Overall
Jo was first lady (ever) to finish.

This race had rather crept up on us. Jo and I decided to do this last year, viewing it as a pretty good training day, good fun, a challenge and all that. We’d decided that we would race the event together which was quite exciting. It was going to be tough and pulling each other through it was something I was really looking forward to. In the final few weeks we got ourselves a little nervous about how cold the water was going to be. Sally had put us onto a website where you could check the temperature of the water recorded at buoys around the coast. It looked like about 10c … thats cold. We both bought thermal rash guards and fully intended to wear them.

I’d planned to train through this race but I’d been ill all week and hadn’t trained at all. Race morning I felt no better, coughing and feeling unwell but certainly had every plan to start. Reckoned if I felt ok after the swim I’d battle through.

At the race start we found that the swim had been cut short due to how cold the water was. I”m guessing it ended up somewhere between 1.6km and 2km. 10 hardy Triathletes lined up for the start. Some had neoprene socks and gloves. Despite my rash vest, thermal rash vest, wetsuit, swim cap, neoprene cap and swim cap on top combo I  was starting to feel underdressed. The spirit on the start line was great. Definitely we were all in this together and the real competition was between each individual and the course rather than each other. As I wasn’t racing this I had no nerves whatsoever and was really looking forward to it.

We were all lined up on the beach for the start and when the horn went my competitve instincts just took over and I pegged it to the water. As my toes hit the water two thoughts hit me at the same time:

1.no one else was pegging it into the water; and

2.the water was not as cold as I’d expected.

That second one had me diving in and getting going. No cold water shock which was a pleasant surprise. This ain’t so bad. Soon though I realised that was purely because of the neoprene cap. The water was seriously cold. I soon couldn’t feel my hands and feet. My lips were numb. I kept pushing to the first buoy, even kicking my legs to generate heat. My feet got massive pins and needles. I kept seeing splash and thought “no way! someones on my feet”. At the turn buoy I treaded water briefly to try and sight. No one behind me but the world was spinning round and round, I couldn’t sight, I wasn’t thinking straight, I was dizzy. Decide best bet was to just swim. Next swimmer I saw was Jo – great she was in second spot. Down the next stretch I started to settle into my stroke and my temperature seemed to settle and I was happier. Tried to relax. To do this I normally bilateral breath (ie every 3 strokes) – tried this but it was way too cold on my lips and face – went back to breathing every two strokes. By the time I got to the finish my feet were so numb and I was so dizzy I could hardly get out of the water.

Back at the car I got changed and into the car. Marc and Lotte (our support crew) were on the ball and had the heaters on. I could be quite relaxed as I was waiting for Jo. She wasn’t far behind me and as she got changed in the car she was shivering like mad. Boy did she look cold, I really felt we shouldn’t rush and should make sure we were warm before we got on to the bikes.  I think we took just over half an hour in T1. Happy to have the swim over but a little disappointed it wasn’t the full 4miles though it was so cold it was definitely the right decision to  shorten it .. I felt I could probably have done it but some people would have been in the water well over 2 hours which would have been pretty full on.

It felt good to be riding. Legs were kind of numb and it was rather pleasant to be pedalling. We chatted with another competitor for the initial climb but after that I didn’t want to ride the whole way with her and pushed on. Jo followed my lead and soon we passed two  other competitors which put us in second place. We were going well but with the initial hill our average speed was well below 15 mph and with 170+ miles to cover we knew we’d need to get quicker to finish in daylight. The route headed inland from the Welsh coast, the roads were quiet and the sceneryawesome. I kept my computer on average, trying to lose time and pushed on keeping an eye that Jo was still in sight. Was keen to ensure that Jo didn’t benefit from any draft from me as she had a great chance to be fastest female. I didn’t share this with her but it meant that I’d happily sit on her wheel (as I wasn’t really racing it) but I wasn’t keen to let her do the same. Sounds harsh but I didn’t want Jo’s achievement lessened by getting a draft from me. She didn’t complain or pass comments so i assume she didn’t notice or didn’t mind …. I guess she’ll know now !!

Our first stop was on the A44 west of Aberystwyth. We’d covered about 35 miles in just under 2.5 hours and were about 20 minutes behind the lead guy. We had a fairly quick stop here – Jo dropped some kit I didn’t really do anything. We pushed on. There was a long steady climb and then fantastic descent – our average increasing all the time. Then an awesome section on a minor road from Llanidloes to Llanbrynmair. Initially there were some sharp uphills but then really fast riding down. By our next stop we’d upped our average to nearly 16 mph and closed the gapon the lead guy to about 16 minutes. We were closing on him but Marc and Lotte told us how quick his stops were – a matter of minutes. We had no plans for such quick stops. In fact we were about 12 minutes at this one. Had a sandwich and hot drink and got back on our way. We were seriously enjoying the riding now. We both felt good, the weather was holding up. There was an uphill section north of Machynlleth which was pretty amazing … it was gently uphill but I was motoring at 18-19mph. It felt awesome. I just kept pushing and pushing. Soon Jo wasn’t in sight behind but I was sure she wouldn’t mind, she’d know I was enjoying it. Then a great decent before meeting Lotte and Marc again. Average up over 16 mph and very pleased.

Now it was out along the Race the Train route, back to the coast with the wind on our backs. Awesome riding, super quick, improving out average yet more. Then back inland to Dollgellau. I sat on Jo’s wheel for a good while along this section. It was good to be together and I hope she didn’t mind doing the work (she didn’t complain). As we approached Dollgellau I went by and headed off. We climbed further north before our next stop at about 115 miles. Done the Ironman Distance … now it was a long ride. We turned east on to the road towards Bala. For me this was the toughest section, was starting to feel some fatigue and the road just seemed to keep going up and was into the wind. I’d see a zig zag and think “I don’t wanna have to climb this”, get to the top and then there’d be another. By this point another support crew was leap frogging us so i thought another competitor was catching us. (I found out at the breakfast on Sunday morning that someone was – he got within about 8 minutes at about that point but then faded). I pushed on, in the zone.  I had to with such a strong headwind I just wanted to get it done and I knew after that it would be generally downhill and with a tailwind. At the turn I stopped and had a nice rest whilst I waited for Jo to catch up. Now it had to be about the best section of riding, Undulating moorland with a tailwind, then a long descent and finally a downhill section of the A5 into Betws-y-coed where Jo and I were spinning out our top gear at nearly 35mph !! We had our final stopp – 150 miles in 9 hours of ride time. Very pleased.

We enjoyed the last 16 miles. Cycling together, Jo on the front. As we ascended Pen-y-pas I had spoken to Jo numerous times without any response and finally realised she had her headphones on. I thought “buggy this for a game of soldiers” and spun past. She shouted something like “go go” … clearly liking my decision to pummel the last climb. As I approached the summit I saw one of the organisers with a video. Realising I as in my small chainring but could get the equivalent gear in the large chainring I switched up – it would look better in the video ;o). I road strongly to the top. I was feeling better as every hour passed. Almost like the exercise was killing off whatever bug had infected me last week.

The descent to Llanberis was awesome. We saw the lead guy walking up and reckoned on him now being about an hour ahead of us. We were pretty quick in T2 – I munched some pork scratchings. We changed and set off agreeing to meet Marc and Lotte at Pen-y-pas in just over an hour. It was about 6 miles all uphill. Fun to be running. We chatted for the first few miles, pleased to be on the run and I was chuffed to bits to be racing with Jo. I was looking forward to this run. By the time we’d stopped chatting I felt in a great rhythm and was running strong and comfortable. I concentrated on keeping a relaxed efficient stride and cadence. I focussed on getting to the top and also looking forward to seeing the next competitor. This meant I kept looking at my watch but for once this didn’t slow time … it was exciting to see we were 10,15, 20 minutes ahead of the next person. Finally we saw his support crew and then him… we must be best part of an hour ahead. Next was when would we see Alex. I’d half expected him to catch us on the bike but we’d seen no sign of even his support crew. We reach the top in 52 minutes which was pretty awesome going. I took my rucksack with water and we headed off down the other side. I wanted to push on now as there was an off road section which would be alot quicker in daylight.

As we decended we saw Alex and heard some comment about 15 miles (we found out later he’d gone wrong on the bike and done an extra 15 miles) – it looked like he was about 90 minutes behind us at this point , so that explained alot of it. The off road section was lovely. We were able to run along together and were both feeling pretty good still. We chatted as the sun went down. It was great. Following the next stop I started to feel it rather. There were some pretty steep ascents and my legs were suffering. It was good to have someone with me, Jo still seemed strong and it helped alot to be able to just focus on sticking with her, Marc and Lotte met us again at the top of this section. They’d done me a peanut butter sandwich which was really appreciated.

It was getting dark now but possible to run without headtorches. Suddenly Jo was dropping off the pace. She told me she was starting to suffer. I eased off abit to try and stick with her. We were now entering the expected tough section of the whole race. We’d perhaps completed  12 miles or so of the 32 we and now it was down to mental toughness. At this point we had a period of distraction as another competitors support vehicle came by, He had two flats and was meant to be heading to T2. He was not happy to find out he’d gone wrong and was on the run route. We offered to get Lotte and Marc to drive back to T2 with his competitors kit when we next saw him parked up with front tyre completely ripped. He was going to take us up on the offer when he pointed out they had a second support car coming from Llanberis – we said that would be as quick and off we trotted. We had another brief stop before getting to Beddgelert which was over halfway. Now it was completely dark and downhill so to speak. I found it very amusing that the pub we stopped next to was called the Royal Goat … rather a sign of my state of mind than any particular humour in it. Beddgelert appeared insanely cosy as we made the ascent out of town. Looking back this whole next section was rather surreal. I only put my headtorch on when a car was approaching and we slowly climbed up the hill. Each at our own pace, it was way too uncomfortable running at someone elses. I kept an eye out for Jo and every so often slowed my pace to let her catch up. Time was flying by now. My running was comfortable, my bad patch behind me and just completely in this no mans land where I felt little concept of time. The darkness helped – just silhouettes, warm lights from houses dotted about, I visualised open fires and felt great.

Lotte and Marc were rapidly becoming expert support crew. They handed over coke when we needed it. Gave encouragement and made sure we got going again without too much delay. At the top of this climb they suggested moving the next meet point further out as it would be downhill / flat. We agreed – good motivation and since we were ‘losing time’ now it should be easy to keep going a little longer. I really started to feel good, I found that if I ignored the signals from my legs and just pushed a little I could run pretty rapidly and feel very comfortable. It was almost like I’d passed some point beyond which you could just keep running. It was unfortunate for Jo that she was now feeling zonked and slowing dramatically. Every 5 minutes or so she would shout and I would walk whilst she caught me and we’d start this again. Jo understood that it was better this way than me run at an unnatural pace. She mentioned she felt like she should switch up a gear. I thought, ghee whizz thats ballsy … wanting to push on abit. Then she explained – she was feeling like she was on the bike and was trying to switch up gears with her right hand. I thought I better check her out as perhaps this was the first sign of hyperthermia ! She said she was ok but I thought I should keep an eye on her. I heard the lake as we passed and knew the next stop was soon. But it went on and on. I could see mountain silhouettes and they seemed miles away – that couldn’t be right. I reminded myself how desceptive this can be in the dark – u imagine they are large mountains a long way off but in fact are small and close by. This was the case, we soon passed them, then I could see lights rising on a hill in the distance to the right. That must be our final turn. I was convinced that Marc and Lotte had been very cunning and moved on alot further for this next stop. When we met them they weren’t sure where they were on the map so there was some disagreement about where we were. I was convinced we only had the last 4 miles or so to go but they thought they were further back. Jo wasn’t willing to risk believing me especially as she hadn’t noticed the lake which meant she felt we had way further to go than I thought. Luckily abit further along it was clear I was right. This was the final stretch.

Up this final hill, Jo was suffering with her achilles and we had to walk. We ran along the top and then had the descent. It was dark and rough. I find this sort of decent good fun, I relax and let my ankles flex to the undulations – I almost decend quicker in the dark than in daylight. At each gate I opened it and waited for Jo. We could see the lights of Llanberis below. We’d nearly done it. It was approaching 1am and it felt awesome, surreal but awesome. Through Llanberis and closing in on the finish our running became easy and we congratulated each other and ran into the finish line (the tape was tied tight!) together to the congratulations of the amassed crowd of Marc, Lotte and the organisers Ross and Chris.

It’s hard to explain how much I enjoyed that run. The second half in the dark I entered some amazing place where time seemed to fly by and I could just run. It was great and even remembering it now makes me feel good. I’m tempted to do another one of these.

Jo’s Report

At the race briefing the organizers (Chris and Ross of Accelerace – an easy going couple of guys who were prepared to miss 3 days of sleep so that a dozen triathletes could race) announced a 6 am start rather than the previously advertised time of 5am. This was on the grounds that ‘it seemed at bit cold and gloomy at that time this morning….’ When quizzed about the actual sea temperature, it transpired that they actually had no idea…..and the realization that 10 degrees really was a bit too cold to send these mugs into for a 4 mile swim, no matter how willing they all were to give it a go, began to set in. So it was that at 6am the following morning it was announced that the swim would be 2 laps of an out and back course set out about 30m parallel to the shore. This news was met by unanimous relief from the assembled field of neoprene bound competitors, since it really was pretty cold and gloomy, with a fierce wind adding to general atmosphere of fear. Alex was shivering violently and he was not even wet. All of a sudden the day ahead looked a lot more like one I’d be seeing the end of.

The water was cold, but having spent a few mornings the previous week in the Gospel Oak Lido, I was ready for the initial shock, face freeze, and inability to feet my feet. I also knew that it was a race against time before my hands would cramp into Vulcan Claw – even more ineffective on the ‘catch’ than my usual swimming style – so it was worth getting a shift on. Whether it was this or simply the fact that the majority of the rest of the competitors had opted to impair their swim by wearing gloves and booties I don’t know, but I was very pleased to find myself in 2nd position – by no means on Steven’s toes, but within sight of him. Alex, Steven and I all wore green caps, so we could all see each other –unusual for an open water swim! Alex was not far behind me in 4th position. It was fun being so close to the shore as we could clearly see and hear our supporters as we made the turn at the end of the first lap – and even shout back.

Heading back after the final turn I started to feel really too cold, and was glad to know I was soon finishing. But despite this, part of me was disappointed not to have had to face the monstrous challenge of the 4mile swim that I’d committed to – as this really was the aspect of the race that I’d been most concerned about, and would have felt like the greatest achievement to have completed.

Exiting the water was quite a challenge over the rocks with completely numb toes! My sister (support crew) was there with a towel and shoes but I just made what I thought was a bee-line, for the warmth of the car. Steven was already there of course and as we set about the difficult business of getting out of wetsuits in very cramped conditions, whilst eating flapjack and drinking hot chocolate, Alex jumped in the back too – his support crew had expected to have a couple of hours and were engaged in dismantling the tent and no where in sight!

We became aware that, despite being first and second out of the water, we were amongst the very last still in transition – time to get out of the car. I was pretty cross with myself over this…and rode determinedly up the first hill. It’s a weird and pleasant feeling to work the legs hard on the bike whilst they are still so cold, as you just don’t feel a thing. After half an hour or so, most of which was ascent, warmth seeps into the limbs, reaches the feet and the jaw relaxes…the ride begins.

The 170mile bike course cuts back and forth across the hills of mid Wales, touching the coast near Barmouth and back inland again, across the moors to Bala, snaking north all the way from Llanryhstud towards Llanberis. We had identified 5 points along this route where it crosses the main roads where our support team (Lotte and marc) would find a good stopping point to meet us with our food, a supply of hot drinks and waterproof clothing to see us through the terrible Welsh weather that had been forecast. Our estimated arrival times based on what I felt was a pretty optimistic, given the terrain, an average speed of 15 mph.

At the first stop ( 30 miles or so) the terrible weather was doing a pretty good impersonation of quite nice weather, and I’d fully defrosted I shed some layers, picked up a fresh bottle of water, and excited by the news that we’d made it up to 2nd place and only 20 min behind the leader, we headed on. A few minutes up the road I realized I was only wearing one glove and had an amusing time trying to signal this to Marc as they drove past toward the next stop destination, and even more so trying to grab it from him a little further up the road. He really can’t run at 15 mph – must be his Achilles playing up that day ;o)

After a full week off the bike and running due to a sprain in my foot, my legs were feeling great, and I was enjoying being able to push along these beautiful roads without any fatigue in my legs. Though it was early in a long ride, I was pleased that we’d been maintaining well over our estimated average speed, despite feed-back from my Powertap that the riding conditions had been hard. I told Steven that my average wattage was up at 167watts (note for non- geeks: that’s high – a long ride usually averages around 110 watt, whilst a good Regents Park session maybe 150-160). He warned me to ensure that I wasn’t overcooking it. Actually, I was aware that he’d been hanging back a bit; he’d been sick all of the previous week and I was concerned that he was suffering. I asked if he was ok – on a scale of 1-10, he said he felt about 4 or 5. Well, I reckoned he’d be man enough to say if he wants to ease off – generally Steven starts a ride much easier than I tend to, and gets stronger through the day. After out second stop at 65 miles (the 2/5th point!) where we stopped a little longer, for public loos, sandwich and a coffee (and were informed that we’d closed the gap on the leader), we hit some great terrain and he really started to get into the swing of the ride. Steadily inching away from me on the long, almost imperceptible climb and carving out of sight on the sweeping descent that followed. An hour had passed and I was enjoying the road, the scenery and the great weather so much that I was stunned to find Steven parked up at the support crew again so soon. The guys were rapidly becoming very proficient as rider support, spotting great pull-in spots, having our kit and food readily to hand – they even picked up cokes for us which were really well appreciated!

The ride went on, much like one of our long training rides – riding within sight of each other, Steven usually 50-100m ahead or around the next bend, with me catching occasionally, riding alongside for a bit of a chat and then we’ll gradually separate on the next incline or with a headwind. We were both really enjoying it, though riding at quite different relative intensities – I was consciously pushing to maintain a high power output whilst Steven was just out enjoying a good paced training ride on some fun roads!

It certainly did not seem as if 10 hours had passed when we pulled into our final stop at Betws – y- Coed – though after 150 miles, we really were in ‘long ride’ territory! Ate our final sandwich and got ready for the ascent over Pen-y-pass. We’d finish the ride in daylight and with a ride time of 10 hours – average speed 16.5mph! Yes, mathematicians, the ride was slightly short – in fact we were a bit concerned that Lotte and Marc might not have gone directly to T2 with our gear, thinking that they had more time before we arrived.

Of course they were there though, we changed kit – still lovely and warm so just shorts for now, and decided not to bother with back pack until we’d been over Pen-y Pass (having a support crew is such a bonus!). Legs felt pretty stiff – my ankle had been a bit of a concern since I’d not been able to run on it all of the previous week, and it had been aching for the final 50miles of the ride. I warned Steven that I’d need to start very easy until it warmed up, which he was understanding about, of course – his legs were probably feeling a bit stiff too! We got into a nice pace out for town and began the long steady ascent over the pass. The top came remarkably quickly – we had been running well. At the top we’d planned to up our bags with Camelback, waterproof, head torch and compass in – when Steven suggested that we shared his. We’d be meeting our supplies regularly, it was good weather and would not be dark for at least an hour. Of course, I knew exactly what etiquette demands in such a situation and graciously accepted his chivalrous offer.

The run route is an adaptation of the Snowdon Marathon route – the adaptation being an add-on of approximately 10k round some pretty and very undulating minor lanes, which we reached after about 90 min of running. At this support stop, I took a big gulp of an energy drink that Lotte had made up out of an old sachet that I’d picked up in some race goodness knows in what year, and it tasted seriously off. I didn’t feel I could stomach anything more solid – until Marc offered me a dried apricot from the packet that he’d just opened for his supper. Pretty good, so I ran off with the lot – luckily he did not give chase, as I’m not convinced I’d have out-run him at that point!

So, I had something to keep me going, but very soon my stomach started to cramp quite nastily. I slowed down a bit to try and ease it…felt ok…ran on to catch Steven. Felt bad again….then much worse …and had to make a very hasty retreat behind a hedge.

Lucky I made it to a discrete spot, as whilst I was hiding a terrible sound of a large vehicle driving on a flat tyre passed down the lane. This turned out the be the support vehicle for an other competitor in the race, who’d got lost on his way into Llanberis (with the run kit for T2) wound up on the off-road section of the run course in his Tranny van, frightened a sheep, swerved to avoid it and in doing so punctured two tyres. Lost, without a map or telephone signal, Steven offered what help we could -that our crew come and collect the race gear and deliver it to T2 for them. We’d be left to finish without support, but at least his guys would have a chance of finishing at all. However, when it transpired that their team actually had a second support vehicle, we felt that the driver had been rather remise in accepting our offer didn’t feel too guilty about leaving him too it. At least he had managed to get a signal on his phone and contact the AA.

I was really beginning to run out of steam by this point and the distraction wasn’t particularly welcome. I was finding it harder and harder to start running again after each stop. I was also conscious that if I didn’t concentrate, my pace would seem to slow to little more than a jog –a-ha! The Ironman shuffle- and a gap would open up between Steven, who was running comfortably, and I. This was good enough motivation for me to continue trying to pick it up, since he was carrying all our gear, but did quite change the nature of the run for me. As it became dark we collected out head torches from the crew car, who were still in good spirits and providing excellent motivation, and despite their increasing concern about us managed to prevent us from sitting down in the car, or spending too long wandering around and talking gibberish at each stop. We continued to progress in this fashion, Steven running comfortably at his steady pace and me at my not – especially – comfortable – and – certainly – not – quick pace, until the beam from my head torch could no longer pick out the reflective patches on his bag, and I’d shout for him to wait up. I tried using my mp3 player, but soon became irritated by the fact that I could not keep pace with the music that I usually like to run with.

Either the energy or the motivation to speed up had left me, the dark was playing tricks on my eyes, and I had little energy to think about much aside from keeping Steven’s back in sight, and wondering how far round the course we were. I’d really lost track of time, but I suppose that we’d been running for about 5 hours. Our next stop was to be our penultimate, Marc having suggested that we skipped one in between, having observed that we were not really in need of nutrition or water, and the stops were really just breaking our rhythm and we were increasingly reluctant to depart each one. They even had resorted to standing, with cokes, away from the car in order to encourage us to pass quickly through! There was some confusion as to our location at that point (I exclude myself as I said – I was not keeping track very well and still believed us to be little more than half way!) and Steven was convinced that we had all managed to miss the agreed location and driven/run on to the last stop point, from where the vehicle would not be able to accompany us as the course went off road up and over the ridge in Llanberis. A few yards down the road, he was proven right, much joy, as we only had a further hour of running max.

This was the hardest hour for me though – despite knowing that the end really was in sight, to get there meant first tackling a very steep ascent of 3km before the steep off road descent into town. I was totally physically depleted and unable to do more than just keep moving. Steven was quite amused, and asked if I’d ever been in this state before – I don’t think that I had. I’d blown up during the Jungfrau but that was a quite different experience, associated with lack of nutrition and the altitude. In this case I just had nothing left in me at all. Walking breaks became increasingly frequent. I wondered if the head torch of a chasing competitor had appeared behind us, would I have been able to pick it up – probably not. Maybe for a pack of angry dogs! But, it wasn’t unpleasant…I was up a mountain on a starry night, with Steven, having enjoyed a fantastic day and finally looking down onto the street lights of Llanberis – where we’d soon be able to celebrate the completion of the most challenging race I’d ever signed up for.

The final descent was a real challenge – legs so tired it was impossible to control my foot placement to protect the ankle and Achilles; it seemed to go on for ever –certainly longer than the climb. By the end I really was in considerable pain. But reaching the smooth back roads of town, with people stood outside the pubs admiring our dedication (‘they don’t know the half of it’ I joked to Steven –‘they don’t know the 20th of it…, he replied) and knowing that we’d done it lifted my spirits. We joked on about ‘race you to the line’ …we also enjoyed the joke that the organizers had played on us – tying the finish tape so tight that we bounced straight back off it when we ran into it together!

The end of a fantastic day, and a month of worry (my mum was concerned enough to have waited up until 1am!). Bonus was a bottle of Champers for being the first lady ( out of 3 female finishers) and a free breakfast the following day!

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