Very little I do these days comes under the conventional tag of “normal,” so why would me becoming a triathlete differ in any way or form?
The Double Brutal Extreme Triathlon is not only a double Ironman distance triathlon held in the Snowdonia National Park in North Wales, but it also involves nearly 5,000m of climbing along the scenic cycle route, then summiting Mount Snowdon straight off the bike, before finally completing the rest of the double marathon around a hilly lake course with over 3,000m of climbing on the run leg.
This tough race will be my introduction into the world of triathlon, while fuelling completely on nothing but real food: no maltodextrin, nothing artificial, no preservatives. The majority of my nutrition I either baked or made myself, was fruit, or came from two sports nutritional companies who create real food alternatives to the lab-made sports nutritional products on the market today: 33Shake and Ignite Naturals from Invivo Health & Performance. Normal no, crazy, well maybe a little…
Completing an event of this magnitude is not a solo effort: a support crew (in my opinion) is a vital element of making this adventure as enjoyable as it can be, and here is a brief introduction to my stellar team:
Tarsh “Mother Hen” (@Supergal007) is my go-to girl and social media queen. Her job is to keep things moving along, cut my loafs, wrap up my food, and throw coffee on me at other times; I’m still unsure how this actually helped!
Graham “Dad” (@KusagaAthletic) is the old man of the crew, my bike man, wheel man at night, cameraman (although with some of the footage I’m unsure he has ever seen a camera before) and all round ‘Mr Fix It’ if things go wrong – he loves duct tape!
Hannah (@IamHannahWalsh) is the baby of the crew, an ultra-runner and lover of life. Hannah is entrusted with navigation and getting me up and down Snowdon in one piece. Well one out of two isn’t bad…
With both half and full Ironman distance races starting at the same time as me and the other 19 nut jobs competing in the double, the swim start isn’t a huge mass start, but there are a few hundred wetsuit-clad people lubricated up and ready to go.
From the hooter I jump onto (quite literally) people’s feet and chill out at the back of a group for a while. “Dad” kept telling me prior to the race to draft during the swim, as nearly 8kms is a long way, so conserve some energy he repeated. I bounce from feet to feet, at times feeling like I’m not swimming at all but merely floating along.
The laps tick by until I hit the halfway point and there are only the lunatics attempting the double remaining. I swim alone for a lap, which is quite refreshing actually as I enjoy the surrounding mountains with each breath. I catch up to a couple of fellow red-capped crazy people, and the three of us swim as a group for the sixth and seventh lap of eight.
For the final lap of the 950m loop I go it alone, enjoying the experience I’m having in the balmy 15°C water temperature. I surface from Llyn Padarn’s crystal clear waters to the cheers of not only my crew, but the remaining scattered people still waiting for their athletes to exit. I feel a big sense of accomplishment as I’ve never swum that far before in my life.
Time: 2:59 hours
After taking my sweet time in transition, (which is actually the boot of my support vehicle) chatting to my crew, eating some avocado mashed up on some of my homemade chestnut and rosemary loaf while complaining that I have to wear my race number around my waist during the bike (and being told to stop whinging by “Mother Hen”), “Dad” finally tells me to stop talking, hurry up and get on the bike, so I do.
On the first lap of eight I want to simply see the course, and what I will be cycling around all day and all night. The scenery is magnificent with the course weaving in and out of jagged edged mountains, next to pristine lakes and through small villages, which nearly seem to have more pubs than houses.
I break the 45km lap down into three sections, beginning with the three short but sharp climbs in quick succession about a quarter of the way through the lap. I remember thinking during the first couple of laps: “These are gonna bloody hurt come six, seven, and eight!”
Arriving at the top of these cheeky leg stingers I’m treated with a constant descent through some villages, and then some relatively flat areas next to a few more lakes, or maybe it was just one lake?
Between singing (screeching it may have seemed to others), talking to myself and admiring the scenery, I don’t get bored of the looped course at all; and then I arrive at what was said to be two climbs, but is really just one long steady ascent to be honest. For me, this is basically the end of each lap, as I know once I’ve reached the top of the Pen-y-Pass it is pretty much all downhill to the finish of each lap.
To my left I admire the valley that sits below this sweeping, gentle incline (well it feels gentle until the final two laps) with its lakes looking like they are painted onto the emerald green Earth’s floor. Admiring these natural wonders helps pass the time as I keep the pedals ticking over until I reach the summit each time, as does pulling up alongside any other cyclists I find and chatting their ear off.
I think I’m cycling at a very pedestrian rate up these climbs, I now realise everyone who I began chatting with is actually just pedalling like crazy to get away from the Aussie who won’t shut up the entire climb!
What goes up must come down, and that’s where I try to push a little harder on the windy, smooth descent back into Llanberis. I just have to watch out for random sheep leisurely lying down to relax on the roads; I name them sheep-humps.
Time ticks over on the bike throughout each lap, then it gets dark, then it gets into the early hours of the morning, and I start to ‘sleep cycle’. Blacking out for who knows how long while pedalling, then coming to and realising that I’m heading straight for the ditch that runs along the side of the road.
Luckily, I have “Dad” in a support car who is now directly following me at a slow pace with high beamed headlights showing me the way due to my light deciding to die. He pulls up beside me and suggests a five minute rest, which I also think is a good idea.
I am now cold; stupidly I’ve only gradually added layers, rather then wrapping up completely as the crisp mountain evening air began to lower in temperature. I sit in the passenger seat of my support vehicle, heater turned up, and nibble on a piece of my raw, ground almond brownie while still talking rubbish, and take a few selfies with “Dad”, as you do at 3am!
I love cycling, but am extremely happy to eventually get off my bike, I’ve done 18 hours in the saddle once before, but this time I cycled through the night battling my Circadian sleep rhythm, and it was rough!
Time: 18:30 hours (give or take a few minutes)
I change into my running kit, munch on some sun-dried tomato and basil loaf before having the mandatory check-up by the medic to make sure I am “fit” to climb Snowdon. He asks how I feel. My response of “How do you think I bloody feel, I’ve just cycled 360 kilometres, I feel like sh@t!” is met with plenty of laughs by those in earshot.
With my ultra-marathon running buddy Hannah, who will guide me through the final hours of darkness to the summit of Mount Snowdon by my side, we set off to literally climb a mountain. She gets us lost!
Missing the blatant turnoff to head up the main track towards the summit, we end up at the front door of someone’s house. Doubling back on ourselves, a brief look at the map, and a sharp scramble, we eventually find the trail we need to be on. She won’t live this down that’s for sure…
With each step, not only is the cloudless sky getting lighter, but also my body is feeling like all it wants to do is sleep. I attempt to run on any flattish parts, but mostly walk until reaching the summit. Standing on top of the tallest mountain in Wales and peering out over the postcard scenery of the surrounding green mountains, glistening lakes, and beautiful blue skies, a photo of this rare day on top of Snowdon is needed.
Do we have a camera, of course not, which only added to this already comical adventure I am undertaking with my perfectly dysfunctional crew! Hannah and I both laugh as we shoot off running back down to Llanberis, the sun is shining, my legs feel strong, my stomach’s content, and I am ready for the final leg of my triathlon debut, the run.
Summit/return time: 3:35 hours
It can’t be a better morning for running, the clear skies and warming sun energise my now awakening body; I’m ready to tackle the eight 8.4km loops I’ve got in front of me. I break the loop down into three sections: the long flat stretch at the beginning, which covers just under half the lap at a guess, the hills, and finally the descents, in this order.
As I’ve not attempted anything of this length before (of non-stop racing) and I’ve a history of my Achilles tendons flaring up from constant hill running (and having surgery on one them), I decide to power walk the hills (which later turned into dragging myself up them) to make sure I won’t blow up on the run like many of my Ironman friends talked about.
I feel awesome on the first lap, strong, confident, and energised; I’m already thinking about my finishing celebrations… I reach the top of the hilly section, which is basically a non-stop climb varying in steepness just to really piss off the legs.
After, I absolutely bomb down the couple of corkscrew-like descents that follow, telling my screaming quads to “shut up, and enjoy the ride!” There’s then one final rocky climb up through thick overgrowth that blankets the hills overlooking the lake I swam in the day before.
The last couple of kilometres have some tasty fast descents (my favourite type of running) with a straight and flat final few hundred metres of dirt track into the transition area, and lap-timing mat.
With my crew nowhere to be seen, I head out for lap two. I’m confused as to where they were, but not bothered as I grab some bananas, sip some water from the transition tent and head out into the warming sun.
“Dad” joins me for lap three, with us both talking more rubbish than can be found in a waste disposal centre; honestly it was a 50/50 split, but good fun to have him with me for this loop. I suck down a 33Shake chia gel before heading out for my fourth lap, which is uneventful apart from the obvious slowed pace as I shuffle along taking it one step at a time.
Sleep deprivation catches up with me as the middle of the day approached, and keeping my eyes open becomes more difficult than putting one foot in front of the other!
The girls, “Mother Hen” and “No Direction Hannah”, come with me for this slow and weirdly quiet lap. “Dad” takes over as moral support runner on lap six to help keep my spirits high, they were high all right; I just struggle to keep my eyes open.
I attempt to counteract my drowsiness by yelling at my legs to keep going, abusing myself in the third person, and focus on getting to the end of the lap I’m currently on. I’m completing most of my laps in around 70-75 minutes, including a pit stop for food and water before continuing my lovely Sunday jog.
I take a quick rest before my final two laps, my neck and shoulders are killing me from the bike, and I somehow convince “Dad” to give me a massage with some Qoleum Qrub, the stuff is seriously liquid gold!
“Two more to go,” I shout as once again my leading ladies shuffle alongside me for my penultimate lap, but in my head I know this is it, this is the final lap I have to get through, as the last lap is going to be “me against me!”
The final loop is all that separates me from becoming a triathlete, completing a 84km ultra marathon, and finishing this race. “Lets do this!” I yell as I pass through the timing gate for the final time.
“Leave nothing out there” I constantly shout out load as I increase my legs’ cadence, they are now in total control of the excited little sadistic man inside my head. I feel like I’m flying along the long flat portion of the lap, I then reach the climbs.
“Screw it,” I bellow at the top of my lungs, as I keep running up these sharp continuous ascents. With arms pumping and quick feet to match, I reach the first false summit, then the second, then the third. “Shut up legs, you’re not the boss,” I scream while glaring down at the flesh of my thighs. In what feels like no time at all, and with only short brief spells of power walking, I reach the top of the hilly section one final time.
I apologise profusely to my quadriceps as I motor down the concrete descents, there’s no holding back (or leaning back for that matter), and I’m 100% committed to running flat out on what I deem the fun parts of the course.
The rest of the lap is a bit of a blur as I’m in my focussed downhill running zone, and dig deeper into my hurt locker for more energy, speed, and control. I have a euphoric feeling as I gallop across the road at the bottom of the trail and onto the final few hundred metres of this Double Brutal Extreme Triathlon.
Throughout the day I envisioned my crew and the race organisers waiting under the finishing banner, cheering and clapping me across the line, but in actual comical fashion, I cross the finishing line with only Tarsh yelling, “He’s here!” and fumbling with a camera just as I cross the line.
My crew and race organisers make their way out of the transition tent, and celebrate this moment with me, well briefly anyway.
I didn’t race this event for the applause, the fanfare, the medal, or the finisher’s t-shirt; but for the incredible journey I knew I would experience along the way, the banter and fun times I enjoyed with the best support crew I could have ever wished for (regardless of what I’ve written about them), and for seeing the beautiful area of the world that is Snowdonia National Park.
I loved every minute of my first ever triathlon, and I may just do another one…
Total time: 35:46:27 hours