It was not a question that I had anticipated from my dearly beloved, but who was I to turn up such an offer? A half day of vigorous pounding leaving me breathless and excited was not to be overlooked. Neither was the opportunity for shameless double entendre.
In my eagerness I had made my entry quite early (end of double entendre before it gets out of hand) and hadn't anticipated that my aged excuse of a body would try to completely conk out before I had reached my half century. Abdominal pain, internal examinations and colonoscopies were not in my training plan so I did what I could and crossed my fingers.
Another oversight was not reading the course details before signing over my cash. When I first looked at the course profile, I thought I had downloaded the ECG of a tachycardic pensioner.
After arriving at our nearby campsite prior to race day I left the children with my long suffering and understanding wife, the goodly Alice, and went to register and look at the race venue.
You could tell we were in the Welsh borders - even the swim was hilly. The transition to T1 was somewhat underplayed as "a gentle ramble that you may wish to slip some comfy footwear on for". Turns out it was a 700metre 8% climb on loose sharp shale. If you look at the picture above, you will note the swim (obviously in the wet stuff in the lower section of the photo) and the transition zone (at the top of the cliff at the end of the lake toward the top of the photo).
The race organiser was either a comedian or a sadist or most likely both. This was confirmed when I recce'd the bike course. The usual bike course has a 2 mile climb half way round but the road was closed because of a landslide! Just to ensure we didn't miss out the diversion included an extra short climb and a 2 1/4 mile climb that made Kidds Hill look like a hill for kids. Whilst it was brutal it was undeniably beautiful.
I didn't bother looking at the run course as it had taken me nearly 2 hours to drive the 56 miles (the long course did 2 laps) hoping that it couldn't be more challenging than the bike course (I think you can guess the reality).
Back at the registration tent, I saw Rupert, Claire and Tim who were doing the Little Woody - probably the most testing half ironman in the UK. They were looking very cheerful. I guessed they hadn't looked at the bike course yet.
I went to bed dreaming of small chainrings and big sprockets.
Race morning dawned, well it didn't as it was still dark as I downed a peanut bagel and some lukewarm tea from the flask of tea I had made the night before. My present from Alice was a new Castelli trisuit. Ignoring all wise advice to never try anything new I decided that I should take it for a test run today.
Arriving back at the national dive centre, with first light breaking over the still lake, everything seemed tranquil as I looked down from the viewing platform to the waters far below.
The full distance racers were due to start first and we made our way down to the pontoon for race briefing. The briefing was brief but the start time came and went as the big yellow marker bouys hadn't been put out. I began to get quite nervous as all those round me were talking about their enduroman successes and there was a European deca-Ironman champion there. I started to feel as if I was in the wrong place. Sensing (smelling) the building tension amongst the waiting racers the race referee told us there would be a canoe in each corner of the lake and we had to swim round those 4 times.
Then off we traipsed before plunging into the crystal clear waters. I hadn't really appreciated that an 80m deep quarry lake would be quite that cold but my retracting testicles and hyperventilation were confirmation that it was indeed rather chilly. Over the top of the sound of gasping triathletes I heard a hooter just before being dealt a blow to the temple and losing my goggles. My ensuing fury meant that I made an unusually aggressive start and raised my core temperature to a degree where my shivering was almost controllable. It was a ridiculous amount of time before we even saw the canoes for the corners so I assumed that I was swimming rather slowly. However I was enjoying the swim now and the water was so clear you could see way down the dive lines when you went past them. It felt like you were swimming in the sky - a very odd sensation. As the laps went by I caught a number of people and when I got out of the water I was in 5th place in 1:23! That isn't my best time for 3.8km but it was an excellent time for the 5k that was measured by Garmin. Alice was waiting to cheer me on and decided to run up the path to transition with me which was a real boost.
At T1 my intestinal complaint made itself known so I took a rather long 6 minutes before I exited the loo and made my way onto the open road. By this time the little woody competitors had caught us up as they only had 2 laps of the lake. My nutrition strategy (eat something, drink something and repeat regularly) went out of the window after the first mile when the drinking straw from my bar mounted system bounced out leaving me with a full bottle but no way of getting at it. Being in full race mode I didn't even think of stopping to find it. This mistake found me out later as my newly quintagerian (ie 50 year old) body discovered that 800 ml of liquid is not enough for long distance triathlon.
The bike course really was breathtaking in both senses of the word. After a rollercoaster ride along the A48 the course turns inland and uphill into the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley (so called because you ask yourself why you are cycling up such a ridiculous hill). The wandering cattle served as a useful distraction from the pain as the narrow winding roads took us through glorious green scenery.
Onto the second lap of the bike course and it began to get a bit lonely and I was beginning to get a bit thirsty. I had finished my frame mounted bottle and all my gels and trying to see where the feed zone was as I hadn't seen it on the first lap. As I hurtled down a steep section I saw 2 shadowy figures lurking in the dense shrubbery. I realised too late that they were the feed station and not an amorous couple and shot past. Of course I hadn't learnt from my first "why not stop and go back incident" and carried on to finish the bike section. Into T2, where the organisers had someone ready to take your bike and hand you your run kit. . You then got to sit down in a chair in a marquee to prepare for the run. Daniel and Daisy (my children) joined me in the marquee and gave me a big hug which they soon regretted on discovering how covered in gel, snot and sweat I was.
Just a long gentle jog to go and off I went through the camping field (you can camp next to registration for free). I saw a portaloo and my stomach rejoiced at the sight. As I approached I tore down most of my trisuit at the thought of some gastric relief. But it wasn't to be. To my horror I found it was a portashower and having a poo in there may have led to a DQ at the least. By now I was too far gone to prevent the inevitable and just made it to the thorny, nettly undergrowth in time.
After crossing the adjacent field we turned left and began to climb….. and climb….and climb. Surely this must end soon…. at least the scenery is nice….maybe I can walk when I reach the next tree….please stop going up. Eventually I reached the turn after 2.5k of uphill hobbling where 2 jovial marshalls were handing out jelly beans and pretzels and some water at last. Downhill was pleasantly fast and I could really appreciate the views and how far we had come up. Lap 2 followed a similar pattern - visit the woods to lighten load, see how far I could run before I walked, stop for refreshments at the turn and tumble down the hill. Laps 3 and 4 were a bit hazy as dehydration started to take its toll. I saw Claire and Tim finish their races and my family were at the finish cheering me on to the next lap.
I spent a lot of time walking by now and the time I spent in the bushes or refuelling was escalating. As I was deciding where I should start walking on lap 5 there were only the long course athletes on the trail each in various states of decrepitude. As the distance wore us all down the camaraderie increased with words of encouragement, offers of food and high 5's keeping us going.
By lap 6 I was thinking that even if I walked the whole thing I was going to finish even if it meant coming last. Now I was struggling going downhill and I was employing a run 20 steps walk 10 strategy. Even with the finish in sight I was struggling to put one foot in front of the other and I had to make a gargantuan effort to keep up with Daniel and Daisy as they crossed the finish line with me.
The organisers congratulated me on finishing and presented me with a large birthday cake that Daisy shared with other athletes and spectators alike.
What a lovely birthday.
For those interested in the times:
Rupert 5:31:48 (48:18 inc T1, 2:51:56, 1:46:45 inc T2) 27th overall
Claire Cresswell 6:54:14 (48:09, 3:30:50, 2:22:09)
Tim Cresswell 6:58:29 (48:40, 3:33:39: 2:23:12)
Loz 10:05:51 (1:28:45, 5:10:16. 3:21:45) 1st vet 1st over 50 2nd overall
Grateful thanks to my lovely wife and family for supporting me and following me across England and Wales so that I could celebrate my birthday in style.
Picture of Rupert at the finish - this would make a good caption competition!
Tim Cresswell looking much fresher
not sure if this is Claire but if it is she is showing those guys a hard time