I’d decided at fairly short notice that I would have a go at this race, primarily as it was sandwiched right in between Ultra Trail Snowdonia and my second “A race” of the year, Tor Des Geants. After Snowdonia which included 10,000 metres of ascent, I was dreading spending the summer doing hill reps on the less than mountainous island of Jersey. I needed something to focus on that fell between May and September and I’d been wanting to get into Ultra Triathlon for a couple of years but the opportunity hadn’t come about so I was delighted to finally get signed up and started planning the logistics of the weekend.
Being a hotel manager I sometimes struggle to get much time off in the summer so I knew I wouldn’t manage to get a great deal of training in. I managed a handful of pool swims up to 90 minutes – far from ideal, a handful of bike rides with only one being over two hours and on this 200km ride I hit a cat and had my first serious crash. Unfortunately this happened about fifteen minutes into the ride so I had to spend the next 8 hours slightly shaken up with a fairly badly cut arm and leg. Don’t ask about he cat! I didn’t really do any running as I knew I had base training in the bank from races earlier in the year and I knew that after 336 miles of cycling, I wouldn’t be running much during the race. Sorry, to break down the race, I had opted for the continuous triple option which would entail three ironman distance races but in a continuous format so all the swim (7.2 miles), then a 60 minute drive from the swimming pool to the main race base to commence the 336 mile bike ride and when that was done start the triple marathon distance run (78.6 miles). Other race distances are listed below
10 marathons in 10 days
10 swims in 10 days
Due to logistics of Ultra Triathlon, they usually take place in swimming pools of either 25 or 50 meters and they’re often heated and overly chlorinated so whether or not to wear a wetsuit is the first decision. Our swim was in a 25 metre pool, the cycle was on an open road loop of 8.1 miles which we’d have to do loads of times and then the run would be on a flat trail loop of 1.1 miles through a busy Country park and campsite.
As mentioned before, I hadn’t managed much training but was treating it as a nice training weekend to keep the weight off, an opportunity to dip my toe into a different sport and hopefully a chance to catch up with my sister and her family as they live fairly nearby and had said they would try to pop out to see me.
As usual, due to work constraints I had to work a full shift on the Sunday morning (07:00-15:00) before jumping on a flight to Manchester, grabbing a bus and then two different trains to get me within a taxi ride of the swim location. All this whilst dragging a massive bike bag filled with my bike and all the food I’d need for the next few days. I nearly missed a connecting train so was far from relaxed but was relieved to get to the pool at St Albans Sports Centre which looked like a rather Grand private school and I’ve since discovered that that’s exactly what it is. I nervously went poolside and informed the Race Director that I’d arrived. The Deca and Quintuple athletes were already swimming, some with wetsuits and some without. A volunteer timer sat the end of each lane counting the laps for each swimmer. A few athletes were eating and drinking, one was working on a shoulder injury with an electric massage gun type thing which looked pretty cool. I was instructed to go and sit down with another volunteer for my one on one race briefing as I’d missed the compulsory one on Saturday. The briefing was all fairly straightforward as I’d been sure to read the info pack in advance.
After the briefing I assembled my bike in the reception area of the small sports centre, I got my kit ready for the swim and headed upstairs to the kitchen to boil some water to rehydrate one of my expedition foods 1000 calorie meals whilst meeting the support crew of one of my competitors. I also took the opportunity to prepare all of my nutrition and drinks for the swim leg of the race. There were only three of us in my distance race and I’d befriended both before the race on Facebook or Instagram but we hadn’t spoken. The other competitors were Merko Vaga from Estonia and Ferdia Donohoe from Ireland. Both had a great deal of experience and certainly enough to make me start doubting what I was doing here.
After a bit of a chat with Ferdia’s crew who kindly offered to support me too, I went for a lie down in the only quiet place I could find for an hour of tossing and turning. Unfortunately the race was due to start at 01:00 on the Monday morning. An unusual race start time and certainly not appreciated after a full day of work and travel. It’s not great to start a potentially 64 hour long race already sleep deprived but it was all part of the long training weekend plan.
Close to the start of the race I asked the other two racers if they were planning on wearing wetsuits. Wetsuits give your legs more bouancy and help you swim more efficiently, quickly and horizontally in the water but they also make you overheat and for me, restrict shoulder movements. I was glad when they both said they were swimming sans wetsuits. I never liked them and would always prefer the feel of water on my skin but if they’d chosen them I would have been at a disadvantage not to join them. After a short count down we jumped in and I allowed Ferdia to take the lead.
Swimming is not my strength and I hadn’t swam much but in 2012 I had swam the English Channel and had done my fair share of 7 and 8 hour pool swims so I knew that pending injury I could grind out a 7.2 mile pool swim without too many issues. I was very surprised to find that I was swimming well and overtaking the other lads fairly soon on in the race. I’d planned to stop every 30 minutes for a drink and at the first stop, my friend Karen who was counting laps commented “someones been practicing their swimming!”. I hadn’t but it was a great confidence boost along with lapping the other lads fairly regularly and feeling pretty strong. I actually got stronger as I went on and only found myself flagging in the last hour. As part of the lap counters duties, they are to inform you when you have two laps to go and I was very excited to see the sign and sprint the last two lengths of the 456 required. I leapt out of the pool after 4 hours and 6 minutes and went to shower, change and eat, not knowing how far behind the other lads were.
I had to wait around for a while before one of the volunteers, an ex copper named Justin would drive me to the main race HQ at Allerthorpe Lakeland Park near York which is about an hour away in the car. The race clock wouldn’t stop. I tried to have a snooze in the car but Justin was as excited as me and liked a chat so that would have to wait. Once at the HQ I rushed to unpack my stuff, find a home for my bike bag, get all my gear ready and head out on the first leg of the bike. I wanted to get a head start as I knew at least Merko would be a very strong cyclist from what I’d seen on Facebook and from looking at his fancy bike and massive quads!
The bike leg was a loop on open roads but it was all in good condition. It was almost saucepan shaped so from the park we’d head in a long straight line with a humped bridge in the middle which was barely noticeable at the start but a bloody mountain after 24 hours. After a few miles we would hit a little village with a sharp left turn, a long straight before another left turn followed by another long straight, another left turn, another long straight, slightly uphill this time and then surprise surprise, a right turn! From there it was a long straight with the humped bridge and then a right turn into the campsite for a little cycle around over the timing mat, a couple of sharp turns to keep you aware and then back onto the open roads. I was happy to be on the bike and riding along fairly smooth roads but I was conscious that 24 hours on the bike with little sleep would be tough so I had every intention of being chatty with anyone who would be at the same speed as me. I’m always sociable at races as it’s a good way of making time go quicker and I like to make friends. I quickly matched pace with an army captain and soon to be winner of the Double Iron distance race so spent a good few hours with him.
In the morning I was delighted to see my sister, my brother in law and two beautiful nieces at the turn around point holding a giant banner. I stopped for a while and had a chat but was firmly in race mode so had to keep going. By now the other Triple distance racers were on the course and I was in the lead so I needed to keep focused. The race was great in the community feel that it created. Everyone’s race crew lined the entrance and exits and offered a fleeting moment of support. Something to spur you on for the next lap and something to encourage you back and look forward to.
The bike leg continued fairly uneventfully other than riding over a baby rabbit, which seemed to survive and an incident with an angry 4wd motorist that seemed to take offence to me being on the road and me signalling that he may be a masturbator. I spent time with other racers and enjoyed making new friends. I was lapped on many occasions my Merko who was far more focused and stronger on the bike than I. Oh and I also had a puncture so had to change my inner tube but Merko very kindly stopped and offered assistance which I didn’t need. It was very annoying to get a puncture about a mile from the turnaround point but I was relieved I carried a spare and a co2 cartridge.
I had a bit of a wobbly towards the end. When you head out for your last lap, the timing chap, a friend I’d met on a previous race would hold up a sign stating “last lap”. I’d been tracking my distance via a fairly non complicated bike computer (CATEYE) that measures the distance by the size of your wheel? I wish I hadn’t bothered tracking distance as I’d done the 336 miles and then a couple of bonus laps before I saw the elusive sign. My bike computer stated 350 miles when I eventually racked it and changed into my running gear. The bike leg had taken me just under 24 hours.
My nieces and brother in law had left but my sister had decided to stay. I think she was enjoying herself and had made a few friends and even been out for dinner with the parents of Robert, the chap who went on to win the Double race. After I’d racked the bike, had a quick shower and change I had a bite to eat with my sister Alex sat on a bench overlooking the lake. I was annoyed that I’d forgotten my ipod but very grateful that my Alex was sticking around to support me, it made a big difference and levelled the playing field slightly as the other guys had crews of a few people and even their own gazebo’s!
As mentioned before, the run would consist of 69 laps of just over a mile to give a total distance of 79.3 miles. We would run anti clockwise around a beautiful but busy country park lake, all on non technical trails with only a couple of ups and downs which would get progressively tougher as the day went on. The run was sociable at points as the double athletes were also on the course along with the one-a-day athletes from each distance. It was a very hot day and the park was pretty busy, sunbathers everywhere, paddle boarders, kayakers, dog walkers etc so enough to keep me entertained. I received quite a few funny looks from onlookers and passers by but very few questions. I made it a habit at one point, not long after the start of each lap to cover myself in cold water from the lake, douse my hat and buff in water and carry on. By British standards, this was a really hot day and heat stroke was a very real possibility. On the opposite side of the lake were the campsite toilets which I would also frequent to drink plenty of water and cover myself in the coolness. Just after here I would run past the bike timing tent so would get more support before running up the one and only four meter climb, through a small section of woodland and then back to the start and more support. I was running well but struggling with the heat and again, tried to be as social and happy as possible. I was now racing with Merko pretty much from lap one which was stupid with an 80 mile Ultra to go!
Our strategies differed in that Merko was a much fitter athlete but wanted some sleep. My aim was just to grind it out and keep all breaks to a minimum. This resulted in me taking the lead but not without a few sneaky strategies. As the day came to an end and the sunbathers and had retired for the day we continued into the night with head torches on but I would switch mine off if I was catching up with Merko, catch my breath and then switch my head torch on and run past at a healthy clip so that he would think I was fresh and then slow down when I was out of sight. If he was behind me I would again switch my head torch off so he wouldn’t know I was just in front and wouldn’t pursue at speed. It may or may not have worked but I had to use a few tricks, he was much fitter and slimmer than me.
I managed to maintain fairly consistent lap times of 12 to 18 minutes with a couple of longer laps where I took a break to eat something or change clothing. After 64 laps and with only three to go there was a massive electrical storm. Strong winds, heavy rain, thunder and lightning. I believe we were all requested to sit it out and wait for the weather to subside so I made the most of the opportunity and passed out on the grassy floor of the main event Marquee. Thankfully, so had the other athletes. My intention was to do the event without sleep but given the long day I’d had before the start of the race, it was unreasonable and unsafe to do so. On many occasions I’d almost ran into the lake or a tree and was stumbling around a bit. Forward progress was becoming increasingly difficult so a rest was needed. When we restarted I ran a few laps with Merko until someone held up the “last lap” sign and instructed me to run the final lap in reverse. Turning around and running the last lap clockwise was very enjoyable as I got to see all of the other competitors who were on the course at the time. Finishing wasn’t a big event as most event crew were in the water marshalling for the one-a-day athletes doing their swim leg. I received applause and lots of hugs from the other crew members and was awarded my medal and trophy. The run leg had taken 22.5 hours giving an overall race time of 53.32, just 40 minutes ahead of Merko so I waited around until he finished, congratulated him and headed off to get a spa and spend some time with the family before returning to Jersey and work the next day.
Although repetitive, I really enjoyed my first go at Ultra Triathlon. To get a win was a big surprise and bonus. The race was well organized and had a great community feel. I met some great athletes and friends for life. Hats off to all that competed, especially the Deca guys. I’d like to have a go at a deca but don’t really want to spend such a chunk of my valuable holiday time going around in circles. A point to point would interest me but not loops. A big thanks to my sister and her family for their support for the weekend, a great surprise and a big help.