Sunday, 24 June 2018

Lakesman 2018

I am a Lakesman. I have completed an iron distance triathlon. I am an iron distance triathlete. I can't quite believe it. This journey was around 7-8 months in the making. Months of training, compromises, tiredness, overcoming all sorts of things, from lack of bike confidence to lack of self belief. I have had support from so many people; Ellie my coach, Emma my osteopath, Georgina my sports masseuse, my triathlon club 3 Counties Triathlon, my husband Dean, parents, friends and the people I teach. And now it's all over. It's taken me a while to even know how to begin writing about it and now I've started I suspect this may be a long post... bear with me!
The week before the event was a busy one. I had all the usual work, my last few training sessions plus packing to do and cover, cancellations and cat sitting to arrange. And then suddenly it was Friday lunchtime, I'd taught my last class, Dean had fixed the bikes to the roof of the car, we'd thrown last minute things into bags and we were off! It was a long drive to Keswick and we arrived much later than we'd intended but it was quite wonderful, seeing the landscape change the closer we got. The peaks grew bigger alongside our fears about the elevation for the bike route. On arriving at our guest house, our host, a friendly and modest 6-time Everest summitter, was out of the door before we were out of the car, offering help with parking and bike space in the garden. We spent the evening in a tapas bar, one of the only places still serving by the time we walked the 10 minutes into town, drinking wine, sharing nachos and talking to other holiday makers before retiring to our beautifully decorated and comfortable room, one of just four. One of the others was occupied by another couple there for the event so there was much sporting talk around the breakfast table.
After breakfast on Saturday morning we walked ten minutes to race HQ, the Theatre by the Lake to register; a quick and easy process. After that we bundled into the car as the rain started to fall, to drive the first 40 or so miles of the bike route, to prepare ourselves for what lay ahead the following day. The organisers have done a great job in minimising the elevation for the bike (and run) leg, whilst still providing an interesting route. There are hills, but nothing worse than I'd already tackled in training, and with a 40 mile section of almost flat road in the middle of the bike route to break it up. We saw some other poor souls out on a different triathlon in the pouring rain and crossed fingers that the report of dry weather for Sunday would hold true. The recce put my mind at ease and the rain (mostly) held off for racking kit and bikes later that afternoon. We went to the obligatory briefing, had a mooch around the town and ate a hearty meal at an Italian restaurant (booking is essential on a triathlon weekend) after which we relaxed in our room, winding down and dozing off early.
Four A.M... the alarm went off. Coffee, clothes, breakfast, kit bag, out the door. A slow amble down to race HQ. Check the bikes, make minor adjustments to nutrition set up, apply wet suit, look out across the lake at the hills rising up on either side. This was it. Just before six A.M. all 400 full distance competitors waded into the shallows of Derwentwater. It was about 18 degrees and crystal clear. Despite being a mass start, it was wide enough that I was spared the usual violence and was able to get space, remain calm and find a rhythm quickly. 2.4 miles is a long way and I am certain I swam the course wide. I didn't always find it easy to see the next marker buoy and occasionally got distracted by the scenery. So it was a little over an hour and a half later that I hauled myself out of the lake and stumbled towards transition.
I saw Dean coming into transition just as I was leaving to collect my bike; it was really good to see him, if only briefly, and I fully expected him to overtake me on the bike course. The first 40 miles held no surprises. The weather was dry, the road surfaces excellent and I felt equipped to deal with all the hills. There were five feed stations on the route, one of which we passed twice on "the lap", which helped to break the cycle into more manageable sections. I started eating after about 15 minutes and refreshed my carb drink at feed station two. I saw Dean on a switch back and felt good about the speed I was managing. The hills petered out as we entered an industrial section. I stopped at feed station three for a comfort break and to take on a more substantial amount of food. Next we had a lovely stretch of road along the sea front. I think there was a bit of drizzle but not enough to damped spirits. Then came the start of "the lap", one section of the route we would have to do twice, and the headwind. Miles of headwind. I started to feel fed up, a bit light headed, and my right knee was starting to ache. I decided to stop at feed station five.

As I pulled in a volunteer grabbed my bike to steady it as I clambered off and then looked a little bewildered as I promptly burst into tears. More volunteers appeared and ushered me to a chair as I tried to explain that I often get like this when tired and hungry. I was given bananas, bits of cookie and carb drink while I regained my composure. The person who had my bike even asked if I wanted him to stop my Garmin! We had a chat about how I was feeling, which was low, tired, wobbly, nervous about whether I'd make the bike cut off time and then having been fed, watered and given a pep talk about how I shouldn't waste my energy thinking about the cut off at the moment, I was sent on my way with a bento box topped up with energy bars and chews, a fresh carb drink and a promise that when I came by next time I'd get stocked up again.
The next 16 or so miles were hard. I realised that I had never started a bike ride with an energy deficit  of an hour and a half like I had that day, and so even though I'd fuelled as I had in training, it wasn't enough. I started eating every mile but still had to fight back tears as the head winds reduced my speed to single figures and my knee ached more persistently. I was so glad to see the flags of the Carlisle Tri feed station coming into view once more. Once again I pulled in, started crying and was ushered back to the same chair. A memorable moment was having a cup of coffee in one hand, a banana in another and a lady trying to feed me chocolate chip cookie! I was given pain killers for my knee and a super duper pep talk. I must have had four or five people around me at one point, looking after me, consoling me and convincing me that I could do it, would do it. As I eventually got up to set off again I got the most wonderful hug from the young daughter of one of the ladies there. I am positive that without Carlisle Tri, I would not have found the strength to complete the bike.

With the promise that it was only another 20 miles (although my Garmin said it should be 30) and that they would see me on the run course, I left Carlisle Tri with renewed determination. 20 miles ticked by and I saw the final feed station, but I didn't stop, I only had about ten miles to go. I had a couple of other people in my sights and despite seeing 4pm come and go, I tried not to fret. I had a handful of miles back to Keswick and the landscape was becoming familiar again. Finally I rolled into transition again and set about changing for the run. One of the marshals came over to check I was ok, although for a moment I thought she was going to stop me going out on the run. She offered me food and even helped pack my dirty kit away. My quads started to spasm but the knee felt fine and everything held together as I started to run, with some surprising speed.
If you had told me, explicitly, at the end of the bike section, that I had to run a marathon, or for 5 hours, even though it's my strongest discipline, I may had just thrown in the towel there and then. But as it was, I had five laps to do. Each lap was broken up with three feed stations (I religiously took some cola and crisps at each one) and lined with supporters which made it far more bearable, from a mental perspective. True to their word, the ladies who had looked after me at the feed station were towards the end of the lap and gave me an almighty cheer. Although everyone had their name on their race number, I was wearing my Anthony Nolan tops with my name in big letters so was getting more shoutouts than most, another thing I highly recommend.

On my second lap I saw Dean. I'd been pretty sure he'd have overtaken me while I was having my meltdowns so it wasn't a surprise. However I think I surprised him, not only be being behind but also by shouting abuse at him as we passed on a switchback. I did become kinder on each occasion we saw each other mind you. I only glanced at my watch to see what speed I was doing, clocking 2h23 for the half marathon distance. Once I had three laps under my belt I knew this was it, I would finish. I'd over taken Dean, who was struggling with knee and foot pain. The number of people on the course was fast dwindling but those still out were being ever more encouraging. There were extra big cheers, and a couple of hugs, from supporters on my last lap and then, finally, I turned the last corner to run down the red carpet. Hands came out to high five me and I saw a finishing tape held out under the arch. I'd done it! I'd finished! It was about 9:15pm and I'd been on the go for over 15 hours.
I didn't cry, although I'd expected to. Dean crossed the line a few minutes later, giving me time to compose myself and chat to other finishers. I got changed and we hit the catering tent. The food was wonderful but I was having a hard time eating anything; my stomach was feeling incredibly sensitive. I managed a jacket with cheese and Dean forced a few mouthfuls of Cartmel sticky toffee pudding into me (for which I am eternally grateful). The lead technical official brought me tea and cola, someone else lent me a wrap for extra warmth as I'd started to shiver. It all started to sink in. Someone had accidentally left with my kit bags (I got them back the following morning) so I only had my bike to wheel back to the guest house. We couldn't face the prosecco we'd brought for the occasion, or a shower, so I curled up on top of the bed, in my warm dry clothes and tried to sleep. I think we "rested" rather than slept; every muscle felt sore to the touch and my teeth were super sensitive from all the sugar.
Time and distance lends charm to events but I can honestly I had the most amazing day. The event is only three years old, with 2018 being the first year they've held the half distance as well, but they do so much right. It's friendly, with everyone doing as much as they can to help you finish. Had I been taking part in an IM official event, I would have been stopped from going out on the run. As it was, I was in good enough nick to carry on so they let me. Every marshal, volunteer and supporter is worth their weight in gold. The course is pretty, the feed stations well stocked, catering excellent, medal weighty and finishers shirts rather stylish. Transition could do with being a bit bigger with the half competitors there now too but I think that's the only thing I could fault. As a first event you couldn't do much better. We want to go back to do the half distance event, so that we can spend more time enjoying the area, perhaps even doing some walks while we're there.
A week on and it's still not really sunk in. I am delighted with my time and so so proud of Dean for completing it on less than adequate training but a whole heap of grit and determination. Darling, your mental strength is inspirational! The whole thing feels like a bit of a dream and I owe a huge thank you to everyone who has been part of it. THANK YOU!

1 comment:

  1. What a great read! Congratulations on your determination to finish and all the hard work that went before it. Very inspirational :)