Wasdale Half Ironman Event Review

By Wetbeak

October 25, 2015  

4 fine fine beasts undertake what was said to be the hardest middle distance in the world, the Wasdale Half Ironman Triathlon. DEEPEST, STEEPEST, HIGHEST, HARDEST. Will they manage to get to the depths of the Lake Distric with all the equipment? Will they get to the start line? Will they complete it? And will […]

4 fine fine beasts undertake what was said to be the hardest middle distance in the world, the Wasdale Half Ironman Triathlon. DEEPEST, STEEPEST, HIGHEST, HARDEST. Will they manage to get to the depths of the Lake Distric with all the equipment? Will they get to the start line? Will they complete it? And will they want to ever do another one? Find out by reading the below review of the Wasdale Triathlon – a tale of sweat, blood, pigs, crashes, ham sandwiches and love. A great review of a great event.

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‘A different beast altogether…’ – Lagnado

Chapter 1: Avoiding stress

Sunday 20th September

3:00am: A warm bed in Angel

Roman Lagnado (RL)                ‘One gel before the swim, the inky black I slither in…’ No! Stop that at once! There is no comparison to be made here to the Snowman Tri; the Wasdale Triathlon 2015 was a different beast all together, and so was I. I tried to return to sleep.

9:01pm: Slumped at a computer

RL              Receive an email from the race organiser explaining key changes to race manual. “But I hadn’t received a race manual! None of us had.” This was the first communique since the confirmation email of registration on 31 October, 2014. We all request more information; none is forthcoming. What the hell was this event? A look at last year’s kit list added to the mystery: ‘torch, whistle, compass, foil, blanket.’ Oh god!              

Friday 25th September

8.45pm: Decathlon store in Surrey Quays.

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WHAT IS THIS EVENT?

Ian Burns (IB)           A mild bead clings to my forehead as I cycle at high speed from work to make it before closing. 15 minutes to locate, decide on and purchase the bizarre list of required items. This is the race. It’s starting now. 14 minutes and 5 seconds remaining. Only three other customers in the giant warehouse. Staff glaring. Where are the whistles? WHERE ARE THE WHISTLES? Why do I need a whistle? What is this event?

IB               A whistle combined with a compass, £3.99, perfect, they are both on the list. I locate Mjerko, a dead-faced crow-nosed assistant. Where are your bladder backpacks? “ove-hee ‘ere” he says, creepily. The rack is totally empty bar one Camelbak. It’s three times more than the own brand one I had seen online. Buy buy buy. Walking to the till. Cereal bars in every flavour, buy buy buy. Djokovic branded honey and sesame sticks, buy buy buy.

8:58pm: £103.45 later…

IB               Scream back onto the street. Cyclist on wrong side of road with no lights slides round a turning lorry on the junction. Bang. I’m down. On the coxis. What a bastard. WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING YOU BRAINDEAD MORON??! “Sorry fella”, he mumbles and he’s off.

Saturday 26th September

5:00am: Sunbury-on-thames

Caspar Prestidge (CP)              I leave my house in the pitch black – an over-eager taxi driver insists on a 5am departure time, and then won’t let me sleep during the ride with his ceaseless wittering. I arrive unduly early at Euston station, and have nothing to do but ponder the words of last year’s winner of Wasdale…

At the time I can’t really say I enjoyed the run, the views and the beauty of the place became irrelevant and at times I even forgot what I was doing. I keep telling people the same thing now that I have never experienced pain like it and I still believe that.

5:50am: Somewhere in South London

Eddie Wetbeak        An event like this isn’t just about the race itself, but it’s the whole circus that surrounds the race. For me, the race began at 5:50am on Saturday morning. A race through London from the sleeping South, through the pulsing heart of the capital to Euston, where I see Caspar – looking deep in thought.

6:05am: Somewhere in North London

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The voyage begins

IB               It’s very early. Bags packed and off to Euston. From there to a station called Seasnake (how appropriately Walrusian). Must get tickets, must be ready. Card in, reservation in, machine prints 27 tickets for the 3 of us – that must be enough. Meet the others. Thank goodness. Into Pret – “don’t get the 5 grain porridge” Eddie warns.

don’t get the 5 grain porridge…

EW            We grab a leisured breakfast. I warn Ian not to get the 5 grain porridge – he gets it anyway. We laugh at the quantity of tickets produced by the machine, and waltz off to the platform.

IB               I eat the 5 grain porridge – it’s disgusting. Walk to platform, cleats slippery on the polished station floor. Train leaves in 6 minutes. Virgin-train-man-Martin asks “Where are your bike reservation tickets lads?” WHAT? What are those?

RL              Despite Ian gleefully fanning out the 30 odd tickets he held in his hand to the ticket inspector, none of them could account for our bike reservation. Panic!

IB               Run back into hall. Machines won’t provide them, must queue. Beading again. Tick tock. “Should have come here earlier mate.” “Yes, I know that now; please just give me the tickets.” Eddie is next to me looking worried. Alright, I’m coming!

RL              We sprint down platform 2, Euston.

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Off they go!

IB               Giant bleary eyed obstacles everywhere, cleats slide out, just keep balance. God. Run to train, bikes on, doors close seconds later. We’re off.

10:46am: Carlisle train station

IB               Porridge, sandwich, coffee, tea, banana, flapjack, water, Carlisle, sandwich, shortbread, flapjack. Carlisle!! Connection leaves in 90 seconds from platform 4. Run, run with bikes, run with bikes and big bags. Bikes on, wrong carriage, bikes off, back on, right carriage. Doors shut. Jesus. On to Seasnake.

RL              We sprint down platform 4, Carlisle.

EW            After a less than relaxing journey so far, we can finally settle in, knowing we are being whisked off down the coast to Seasnake. Stunning vistas shoot bye, and Casper mutters an unusual verse.

CP

Packing whistle, map, compass and foil,

The train idly hugs coast from Carlisle,

A Rear mech and to trace,

Any ken on this race,

Are botherations which add to the toil.

Chapter 2: Young men playing

12:25pm: Seasnake

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One final delicious ale.

IB               Stumble on a little Italian restaurant. Risotto for me, lots of water. Must stay hydrated. The others order coffee, not for me, I don’t need it, feeling fresh. It smells delicious… “One more coffee please, oh and a sticky toffee pudding”. Enormous lady in tiny taxi ferries our bags to the hostel, we follow on 8 wheels. Stanton Hill, a little tester. “This would be the type that would kill you at the end of a long ride” I remark to no one in particular. Crunch of metal, swearing, what?! Eddie looks pained.

EW            After some gluttonous lunching, we gently cycled off to our hostel. A small hill on route provides a warm up for the next day’s exertions – a change of gear needed, a rear mech detaching I get. My shifter caught in my scything back wheel.

 

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The parting of the Fellowship. Caspar to Wetbeak: ‘What chance do you think you have? They will find you. And you will beg for death before the end!’

IB               Rear derailleur hanging off like one of Eeyore’s ears, mech hanger snapped. Cab ordered, nearest bike shop? “Miles away mate” and it’s a Saturday afternoon. So? “Might be closed.” What, why? Wave goodbye to Eddie.

EW            Several miles from anywhere, with Casper’s borrowed dying phone, and limited to no reception, I waved goodbye to the others. It was getting on for late afternoon, and somehow, I had to get my bike to someone who could give it mouth to mouth.

RL              We leave Wetbeak to a taxi and his fate and ride on. The roads are smooth, the surroundings sublime. We reach our hostel on the shores of Wastwater.

EW            I took my wheels off. Placed my bike on the grassy verge, and sat down. And, on the side of a hill, somewhere between Gosford and Nether Wasdale, I consider things. Yes, a taxi was supposedly going to arrive (the directions given were “a hill near Gosford”), but time was a-ticking, and I knew not where a bike shop would be, nor whether it would be open, and more remote still that they would be able to mend my mangled bits before tomorrow! My whole trip had been in vain; my lunch I had just ingested would never fulfil its purpose. I pray to the mighty Sun-god that he might assist me in my hour of need.

EW            And my prayers are not in vain – a taxi arrives, with room for a bike, and a cheery driver to boot. We drive for many miles together, and eventually arrive at a bike shop, where a good horse-doctor resuscitates my steed, and I return to the other Walri (some hours later), knowing I will be able to join them in battle the next morning. Nothing could stop me now.

15:45pm: Wasdale Hall Youth Hostel

IB               We arrive at the Youth Hostel. Stunning, right on the edge of Wastwater. Reception closed until 5pm. Hmm. Naked in reception, into wetsuit. Try a quick dip, see how cold the water is. “Come on Caspar, hoods on.” In we go.

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‘The inky black – I slither in’

RL              Dip in the ‘Icy Clear’. The cold fires through my nerve endings leaving my skin burning with numbness. I breathe calmly and feel every part of my body function. What an extraordinary thing it is. I’ve never felt so alive.

IB               Oh my Christ. This is colder than the arctic. Breath caught in my throat, hyperventilating, everything shaking. Stay calm. Do 10 quick strokes, come up gasping, face physically hurting from the cold. 10 more and up again. Caspar beside me. “It’s like brain freeze from eating ice cream too quickly” he jokes. Is he joking? I don’t know. My head is pounding. Roman is in without a wetsuit, just some speedos. Madness. He must have no nerve endings. We’re out in the middle.

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Wetbeak at Wasdale

IB               Despite the penetrating cold, the isolation and the beauty are overwhelming. We shout to hear the echo. It’s majestic in the bleak afternoon sun. Back out, stumbling around like a geriatric French drunk. So dizzy. We’ve been just 300m. More than six times that required tomorrow morning. Still, good to try, I say to myself and run to the heated, underground drying room to warm my bones and soul.

17:30pm: Race Registration

RL              We cycle alongside Wastwater. The backdrop to the lake is jaw dropping. The crystal clear mirrors the horizon in the evening sun: magic. We joke with the other competitors whether anyone will be at registration, so little information has been given us.

EW            I explain to Ian the benefits of giving the marshals water bottles now, as they will then pass them to you on top of the first climb on the bike, thereby saving you having to carry them up the climb itself. If the plan works, then this would be a real treat – shedding precious weight on the climb. Ian looks non-plussed and changes the subject

IB               Check-in is semi-chaotic. The organiser, Mark Blackburn, is grinning ear to ear. His assistant tells us to bring all our kit tonight to T2. He then clarifies this by saying we should bring it tonight to T1. It’s T1 and not tonight but tomorrow and they will move the whole of T1 to T2 whilst we’re cycling. Right. Start time moved an hour later. Delicious news. Eddie wibbling in my ear about the complexities of a bottle swap at the top of Hardknott pass. All I hear are numbers and times. I give them a bottle and hope that’s sufficient. Eddie seems placated. Back to base.

IB               Roman starts a conversation with the bearded hostel proprietor.

Do you know where we can watch the England v Wales match?

“No.”

Don’t you want to watch it?

“No, not interested, it’s just a bunch of men running around in a field.”

Well you could say that about anything.

(The man points to a giant ceramic pig on the bar) “Not about that pig.”

Well, no… but… that’s not what I meant… What are your passions then?

Well, not that pig for one.”

Off to the pub, lovely warming ale, hot pot and table in front of the rugby. Come on England. Come on Engla…oh. Deflated four head back to base. A giant full moon hangs over Scafell Pike. A good omen says Eddie. Yes. Yes it is.

IB               Decide to brand tomorrow as an ‘Adventure Day’ to make it less daunting. I’ve only ever done sprint triathlons in leafy Oxfordshire. This definitely puts the event in the daunting category. It’s not a race tomorrow, I comment, it’s just an Adventure Day. A fun, adventure day in the hills. The others look unconvinced but the self-delusion is working for me.

A long-tilted valley, a deep gulf of shadow, ran back far into the mountains. Upon the further side, some way within the valley’s arms high on a rocky seat upon the black knees of the Ephel Dúath, Sir Walrus lay, waiting.

Chapter 3: Don’t panic, but it’s race day

Sunday 27th September

6:00am: A musty dorm

RL              4 iphones sound in unison.

EW            My heart briefly stops as 4 screeching alarms bring me hurtling back from some murky dreams. I gather my consciousness. Race day. The realisation stops my heart a second time.

IB               Four alarms, all off at the same time. Cacophony. Trapped in a tiny bed two meters of the ground. It’s on. This is happening.

CP             Alarms go off, and I’m already eating.

EW            Where is my race belt. What’s the point in having a race belt, if the first time you’ve ever needed to use it, you can’t find it. Where the hell did I put it?

IB               Eat. Eat as much as we can. Two lots of Ryvita, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. One bite of terrible ham sandwich. Two mini malt-loafs. Three flapjack bites. One bottle of Lucozade. Wetsuit on. Helmet on. Giant rucksack on. Glad there is no one around, must look insane.

8:00am: A rising sun

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T1 or T2?

EW            T1 is set on the side of Wastwater, its waters tranquil – it seems a shame to disturb it with the thrashings of humans. The sky is clear, and the air clearer still. There’s a hubbub of excitement from the 70-odd competitors. The setting is as serene as the malt-loaf I’m digesting. I still can’t find my race belt, and no safety pins anywhere. A couple of inquisitive sheep perch nearby, watching, but clearly unconvinced.  

IB               T1 a melee. Try my swim hat on, it tears in half. Given spare; No. 183 turned inside out. No safety pins for the race number so it stays in the bag. Eddie going insane about his missing race belt.

IB               Race briefing: Marshall explains the swim route, that’s the end of the briefing. No mention of the bike or run. Someone has tin foil wrapped around their wrists and ankles. What do they know? People have swimming booties and gloves. There is one man who must be in his seventies. In we go. Biting cold. Needles to the face.

Wasdale Triathlon Swim Review

EW            I creep into the shallows. I gradually let the cooling liquid fill my wetsuit. I put my head underneath to acclimatise as best I can. I instantly wet myself.

CP            

Two numb feet at first light, my heart reacts, my lungs clamp tight.

Three blasts from the starter’s horn, man becomes a walrus spawn.

The Boat

The origins of the swim lie, of course, in our founding fathers’ historic voyage to Svalbard of 1881

RL              My stroke is strong and consistent. The one swimming lesson reinventing my entire stroke and the two 2 km swims I did last week hadn’t been too late after all! First buoy turn: easy. The next buoy is 700m away. I find my place in the middle of the pack and my rhythm. Considering every component of my stroke, but also trying to forget it in routineness. Stretch out tall. Core tight. Stroke long. Pull back past hip. Rotate the blade over. Stretch out tall. Core tight…

IB               Remember your breathing. Keep it steady. That’s it. Easy does it. Find a hole. Find a rhythm. Follow the booties in front of me. Keep following them. Every time I draw a starboard breath, the Kayak is there, very close, keeping pace. A personal safety kayak, have they singled me out as the weak wildebeest in the pack? Must be my imagination, keep going. I remember last night’s pig conversation with the hostel owner and laugh out loud underwater.

Find a hole. Find a rhythm.

RL              The Second buoy comes fast – turn. I concentrate on breathing steady. Third buoy – turn. I up the pace and get my legs moving.

IB               Out I go, first Walrus out of the water. Spend what must be 20 minutes trying to put my socks on.

RL              Out of the icy clear. Second only to Ian. Eddie and Casper hot on my freezing cold heels. We all finish within a minute of each other. What was the point? Good to get it in you I suppose, like a nutritious breakfast.

IB               A Danish man is drinking coffee from a Styrofoam cup. I can’t seem to use my hands as they’ve turned into icy hooks.

EW            Having concluded that the swim is in fact just part of T1, I determined to expend zero effort during the 1.9k swim. Accordingly, I slap the feet and tickle the thighs of someone else the entire way around (which I imagine severely impinged on their enjoyment), but it allows me to coast through the swim, and I pull past them in the last few metres and beach myself on the lakeside. All four of us finish within a minute of each other. Excellent. In even better news, I find my race belt in my cycling shoes.

CP             I endure the swim, as I must. Some bastard spent half an hour slapping my feet and tickling my thighs, which I feel was a bit unnecessary. I see Wetbeak a few yards ahead as I get out of the water…

IB               Eddie is off, leaving me still in T1. What am I doing? Get me out of here. Can’t get cleats on, can’t clip helmet…

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‘Wide flats lay on either bank, shadowy meads filled with pale white flowers. Luminous these were too, beautiful and yet horrible of shape. Roman passed his hand over his brow and wrenched his eyes away from the water’

RL              All feeling in my hands had been replaced by numb panic. Eventually I get away. Peddling hard to get the blood up to my chattering teeth.

IB               Finally! Wheels turning. I have a Decathlon cereal bar. It’s miserable. No nutritional content. Wish I had a Cliff bar. I settle in and start to watch the speedo’s stats build.

Wasdale Triathlon Bike Route Review

Circa 9:45am: Hardknott pass (ranked the no.1 most difficult climb in the UK)

IB               First pass of Hardknott is at 20km. It’s coming. I know I can do the other things, I’ve done them before. I’ve never been up anything nearly this steep though. Don’t even know if the trusty steed can manage it. Worry about that when we get there.

RL              The cold dread emitting from the riders around fills the road in front; they at least know what’s coming. The only warning is an understated sign at the bottom: 30%. I leave the Norwegian I’ve been speaking to behind, as he stops to take a photo, and I ready myself to take on whatever lies ahead. Nothing could have prepared me for what came next.

IB               15km in, quick gel. Hi5 Raspberry – Horrible. Through a puddle, over a cattlegrid, back wheels slips away, heart leaps, somehow regain control after swerving into road. Two riders behind me gasp. It’s ok. That was close. I look up. Crikey. Here it is, winding up ahead of me. Hardknott.

EW            Much has been said and written about the 30% plus ascent of the pass, but little is really known. All I really know is that I couldn’t be more petrified if a wild Rhinoceros had just come home from a hard day at the swamp and found me wearing his pyjamas, smoking his cigars and in bed with his wife.

RL              The climbing was severe and immediate: highest gear, out of the saddle. I criss-cross the road to find the flattest route up. The smell of burning car clutches behind matters little to me, what’s more concerning is what’s in front. Riders are strewn by the wayside, scrambling on their cleats. If you stop, there’s no way of starting again. I couldn’t succumb to their fate; this was part of the challenge.

IB               The steepest climb in the country. Straight into big cog on the back. Still have the front cog up my sleeve.* Aha. Straight into small cog on the front. Still have the standing up. Aha. Straight into standing in saddle.

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‘The steepest climb in the country…’ – contour lines to prove it

*(ed. This is an insane way to climb a hill)

EW            There’s no gentle introduction here; the climb hits you like a wall. I try and go slow enough to keep some in the tank, for when I know it will be needed further up – the trick, though, is to keep the wheels actually turning.

IB               The gradient is still in the 20%’s. An old man rides past me. He told us yesterday that he’d gone up on a Brompton last week. Very reassuring at the time. Now I realise it’s because he’s made of granite, was born in these hills and is inhumanly strong. I plough on. Leaning forward as far as I can. Legs barely turning. Front wheel weaving and lifting off the tarmac. Old granite man is there, “This next turn is gunna’ test ya, son” he quips. I don’t think he is actually my dad, but he is right: 33% gradient on a turn. Everything is straining. Watch where you’re going. Sustain. Sustain. Sit back on saddle for two seconds and it starts again.

CP             What madness is this? The tarmac rises indecently in front of me and my steed becomes spooked; it rears up and throws me off the back. I regather myself and return for more. This time is no more successful, as I end up careering into some bracken to soften my fall.

RL              Lungs burning. Sick in the mouth. Made it. A bottle exchange is my reward.

EW            Sweet relief. I reach the top, and I’m rewarded with a couple of water bottles and a view of the broadly carved valley, dusted in autumnal colours. Just in the distance I can see the next pass, Wrynose, but for now, I have to navigate the descent. Narrow roads, fumbling cars, sickening switchbacks.

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The water flowing beneath was silent, and it steamed, but the vapour that rose from it, curling and twisting about the bridge, was deadly cold. Wetbeak felt his senses reeling and his mind darkening.

IB               Four minutes or so of this and at the top. Glorious – man hands me my spare bottle. The swap worked. Happy I didn’t have that extra kilo going up. Eddie was on to something after all! Now back down the other side. Just as steep. On the drops, brakes almost fully loaded. This is as hard as going up. Creeping down, any less on the levers and the speed becomes unmanageable, any more and the wheels lock and skid.

EW            Once back down on the horizontal I plough through the valley. I stop to take a leak where I can see neither bike, man nor car. I stand equidistant between the two passes, one now my servant, one still my master. As I muse, 6 cars appear out of nowhere, and pass by scornfully – I pretend I’m unashamed.

Circa 10:30am: Wrynose pass (ranked the no.2 most difficult climb in the UK)

IB               On to Wrynose. I know it’s just around the corner. Fly through the valley and the up starts again, teeth gritted. Other racers are already walking. Sustain. My chain is off (this becomes a common theme – I get increasingly angry). Small climb, up in the saddle, back down in the saddle…. No saddle. What? What is happening? The lack of hydration – delirium is setting in. Maybe I have race dementia? Ha, turns out the saddle is there, nose facing the sky of course, 90 degrees from its usual position. Allen’s out. Quick fix.

EW            The Wrynose climb seems not quite as tortuous as Hardknott. I reach the top, and still feel like I have a little more to give. The yo-yoing of race positions seems to have settled down – I saw no one on the way up Wrynose. Things are going excellently. Really, really, really excellently. I reach the top, shout out my race number to a cheery marshal and plough down again. What a wonderful time I’m having. Hello sunshine. I say out loud “aren’t things going excellently!”. Really excellent.

IB               Back down the other side of Wrynose. Walrus ahead. What’s happened??! It’s Eddie. Grazed. Bloodied. Worried. Pothole. Crashed. Bike in bad shape.

EW            I think I lost a little concentration as a corner approaches. A corner so steep that my speed is difficult to control, a pothole so deep that wheel is swallowed whole. A brief moment of clarity as I try to ride the disaster – a momentary glimpse of success, before I crumple, head over the handlebars, trying my best to break my fall with a rolling shoulder. (My helmet later testifies that it might have taken a good deal of the impact.) I lie prone on the road for a good few moments. I tenderly start to move my body, bone by bone, muscle by muscle, to check for damage.   I gingerly get to my feet, and see my bike looking forlorn in the road. Cliff bars everywhere.

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CRASH! The old wound throbbed with pain and a great chill spread towards Wetbeak’s heart.

EW            The Marshall I had passed a few moments ago had heard my cry of anguish, and had come rushing down. Together, we check over body and machine. But as others start to pass by, I know I have to get going. Time is being lost! Walruses start to pass, I turn down their kind offers of assistance “all ok?” Caspar asks, “yes sir, keep going, I’ll see you later”. Come on Wetbeak, onward! I start to follow down, but quickly realise my handlebars are now at a 20 degree angle to the wheel, which was making an already challenging descent absurd. I stop, and wave down a passing 4×4. A nice young chap nips out, and seemingly without even asking, he has his Allen’s out and was straightening up my bars again. Roman passes by “all ok?” he yelps. “Yes sir, just getting a fix up from this kind gent”. The young local was done. “Thank you sir”. Come on Wetbeak, onward!

RL             Wrynose’s descent is terrifying. I pass Wetbeak hanging out the back of a Landrover. I try and stop to assist, but even the full friction of the break pads on the tyres can’t stop me slipping down the hill.

EW            All the way down I go, and I catch Ian. “All ok?” He asks. “Yes sir, just some grazing.” And off I go.   A few minutes later, and a change in gradient demands a change in gear. As I shift up, my now bent rear mech moves towards my back wheel, eventually catching the spokes – ripping the shifter clean off the bike. I came to a sudden stop. My horse has ceased to be. Ian passes once more. “All ok?” He asks. “No” I reply. Not at all.

RL              It was clear that Wrynose on the return would challenge Hardnott for pain and endurance. This is all I can think about on the 30 km loop which returns ominously to Wrynose’s foot.                      

IB               Off on a loop. No-one around. 60km looming so its back over Wrynose time. There was pre-race mutterings from other about this climb being the real killer for those tired legs. More evil than Hardknott: the Wrynose return. It just keeps going. Ahead five motorbikes push putrid exhaust at me. One is having an altercation with a driver. Between them, they block the whole road. I can’t stop, if I stop, there is no chance of a re-start on this gradient. I start shouting. Manic words. Incomprehensible. The first motorbike finally sets off, his four blaggards slowly set off in turn. I’m getting closer and closer to the last one. Two feet away and he’s off, thank god. That was too close. What are they even doing up here?

EW            I take my wheels off. Place my bike on the grassy verge, and sit down. And as I sit there, on the side of the road, somewhere between Wrynose and nowhere, I consider things. “Bugger” I think.

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‘Wetbeak crashes, limbs a-flail, raw red skin to tell the tale’ – Anon

RL              Perhaps not as steep as Hardnott, Wrynose matches it in toughness by its length, and memory of Hardnott is still fresh in my weary legs. Sheer bloody-mindedness will see me through. My lungs burn, my breathing is laboured. Walking riders offer words of encouragement; I cry out with determination. The mental steel it takes to keep each half turn of the wheel rotating and not collapsing in a comfortable heap is huge.

IB               Back down Wrynose, into the valley and up the final beast, Hardknott return. Pass five cyclists walking their bikes. “Well done mate, keep going” they call. That’s nice, isn’t it. Must keep going. Sustain. My reward is the view of what must be the entire Lake District resplendent in the sun. Jaw-dropping, looks like a Constable painting on acid and then posted on some sort of sensorial Instagram. This was my personal mental hurdle complete. Once the fourth big climb is done, I’ll know I can finish. Still over an hour left on the bike. Can’t wait to get off. Don’t see a soul for 45 minutes. Have I gone the wrong way? Haven’t seen a yellow sign for a while… There’s one! Ha. It’s Stanton Hill of course – “This would be the type that would kill you at the end of a long ride”. Bastards, the lot of them.

RL              Hardnott descent feels as physically and mentally demanding as the ascent. My hands and body contort with the effort I apply to the breaks. Fully vertical. I skid past oncoming traffic. My body begs for respite. I dream about being able to release my breaks just for a second. That would be the end. Finally, the flat. I peel my fingers from off the breaks and peddle as fast as I can, leaving the devil’s horns winding far into the distance. The relief is overwhelming. In terms of blocking out pain and subverting desperation, conquering Hardnott and Wrynose was the hardest piece of physical endurance I have done.

EW            Having crashed out of the bike, my race was over. I was fortuitously picked up by the same young local in a 4×4 who extremely kindly drove me back to Wrynose, where I find a marshal, and then picked up by the ‘lead out car’, who was desperately trying to find the actual leader of the race.

Wasdale Triathlon Run Course Review

Chapter 4: Scafell pike fun run

Circa 1:00pm: A run with a view

RL             

A 2km swim and a 90k bike

All that was left was to conquer England’s highest: Scaffell Pike.

After a ‘Paula Radcliffe’ in the Wasdale Head

I kicked up my heels, full steam ahead!

EW            I eventually return to T2, as we tail the leader in. Once I had parked my crippled bike in transition, I, and one other crashed and burnt participant, decided we’d do the run anyhow. My race may have been over, but Adventure Day would continue! I set off just as positions two and three were coming out of transition.

IB               Into T2. Cleats off, trainers on. Cycle jersey off, Camelbak on. Camelbak is soaking wet, weird. Rapid T2; must have gained a few places there. I smash a banana into my face, miss a turning, people shouting, back I go, down the lane. Hard going already. “You must keep the steady pace steady!” Kevin from Denmark advises as we climb Scafell. Whatever mate, I’m off. He catches me two minutes later.

EW            The run was clearly designed by someone who had no intention of actually running it. After setting off thinking I should be able to run the whole way, I quickly have my hands pushing my knees down. (Or my knees pushing my hands up?) I’m not sure how it works, but it seems to help.

The run was clearly designed by someone who had no intention of actually running it

IB               Quick sip on the Camelbak’s teat, so convenient. Nothing. Nothing at all. Am I sucking it right? I’m following the golden rule – only try new equipment on race days. It’s empty, fully empty. Stay calm. This is not a crisis. THIS IS A F***KING CRISIS. I have no water. Run past a mountain stream – drink it up. I’m wasting time, I must press on. Up to Scafell Pike, back down again, a rope for abseiling if you don’t want to traverse on the sheer rock. That’s the option is it? This is a “run” is it? I tumble down the rocks like a bewildered, intoxicated goat. You’re 29th place, a marshal shouts. 29th! Ha! Amazing. I thought I was miles behind that. Adventure Day OUT. Race IN. It is on. I pick up the pace, and reach another marshal. “Up there mate.” Up where? I see only a steep jagged gully, with water trickling down. Up there?

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“Careful!” he whispered. “Steps. Lots of steps. Must be careful!” Care was certainly needed. The stairway was almost as steep as a ladder, and as they climbed up and up, they became more and more aware of the long black fall behind them.

EW            I find myself in a peculiar position – those around me now believe me to be in second place. Marshals I pass start to shout encouragement, and give me splits to the leader “keep going son! He’s 5 minutes 30 seconds ahead” they shout. “No, you don’t understand,” I cry “I crashed on the bike, and then got a lift to transition, but I’m doing the run anyway, but I’m not actually racing, and in an case, I’m pretty sure I’m not your son!” but by this time I have usually passed by too far for any meaning to be carried by my words.   So I stop fighting the encouragement and start to embrace it; “he’s not too far ahead of you” a rambler cheers, “Don’t worry, I’ll get him” I reply. And I wasn’t wrong. I was starting to catch the leader.

IB               Old granite man is back. The wiry king of the hills. I’m drafting him, foot placement by foot placement. He’ll lead me to safety. Then I’ll burn him on the flats. Ahahahaha. I wonder where Caspar is. Maybe near the end by now? And Romes? Hot on my heels no doubt.

CP             The madness is taking its toll.   The run is ruinous. I sit down on a rock and consume a sandwich I had packed in my bag. Ham. Could do with some mustard.

Richard Crispwithinson

R. Crispwithinson, who first suggested The Great Run. Pictured before the fatal voyage of 1881.

EW            I see him now. Dressed all in blue. He must still be a few minutes ahead, I see fleeting glimpses of him, before he disappears again. Sometime I lose him for five, ten minutes. But then he appears again. I’m determined to catch him, despite the futility. The gaps between sightings become shorter. I must be gaining – my legs much fresher than his.  

IB               I scrabble up some scree and there’s another Walrus. Caspar! Looking low, some ham hanging loosely from his lips. He says he’s fine “just having a moment”, and ready to go again now. Ok, let’s run together for a bit. Off we go, rotating the front man, covering distance now. Old granite man left behind. I compliment him as he passes us again when we stop for a photo. Granite man keeps digging around in his pocket. What’s he got in there? I doubt gels, probably mint cake. Find a flapjack – delicious. Still no water. See trickle of water, pooling ever so slightly on a rock – drink it up. Headache kicking in now. Uh oh. I’ll keep quiet, must press on. Down into moorland, follow the flags. It’s bog. All bog. Every footstep uneven, frequently lose the whole foot in the brown water. Soaking shoes feel like lead weights. Sustain. Sustain.

RL             

Abseiling, scrambling up falls and scree,

You call this a half-marathon?” Insanity!

The view from the top – impeccably stunning,

No time to reflect: “Get on with the running!!!

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‘I wonder if we shall ever be put into songs or tales. We’re in one, or course; but I mean: put into words, you know, told by the fireside, or read out of a great big book with red and black letters, years and years afterwards’

EW            I see him now – just down a small gully. He seems to have stopped. I skip down through the broken rocks to meet him. “Go on” he says – he looks a broken man “I’m cramping up, I don’t have anymore to give”. I realise then that, completely understandably, not only had I had him in my sights, but he hadn’t failed to notice his pursuer, and assumed his lead was under threat. He had been leading all day – since we began, now many hours ago. We had 10k or so to go, and he thought he had been beaten at the last. Poor chap. “don’t worry I say, I’m a DNF – crashed on the bike” I reassure him. “Oh” he says. I see a flicker in his eyes, he quickly interprets events “so…how far back is second place?” About 10 minutes I tell him. “Come on then” he says, and we trot off together.

IB               We pass through the bog and pass other racers, time is losing its standard qualities. Forgot to start watch again. Deadweight on the wrist. Shall I chuck it? No, madness. Caspar has his Garmin. Do I want to know? We must be 4-5km from the end now. I ask. 8km. The last bit of energy drains from me. Morale is low. I need some water badly. 1.5 bottles on the bike not enough, into eighth hour of the race now. I see a bucket laid out in a stream. It must be a mirage. It’s not. It’s there – drink it up! I chew a gel, drink handfuls and handfuls like a deranged Gollum, crouching gleefully in the stream. Ok, press on, roll down the steep paths, sharp pain in my chest. I recall heart attack mountain deaths, our school Latin teacher, Robin Cook and that old BBC DJ. Will I be another name on the list? No, of course not.

Circa 4:30pm: Approaching Wasdale Head pub

EW            John (as I discovered was the leader’s name) was a thoroughly nice chap. What’s more, he had come out of the swim in second place, and then swiftly found himself out in front, so after 7 hours or so of racing on his own, he was chuffed to have a bit of company. We chat our way around the last few kms – mostly bogs – John acts as guide (having done a reconnaissance run a couple of days ago). John wins by a comfortable margin. I’m just glad to finish, and pleased that Adventure Day didn’t end with a crash.

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And people will say: “Let’s hear about the Walrus and Wasdale!” And they’ll say: “Yes, that’s one of my favourite stories. Burns was very brave. wasn’t he, dad?” “Yes, my boy, the famousest of the Walrus, and that’s saying a lot.”

IB               Caspar shooting ahead now. How is he running that quickly? Legs keep turning, running on fumes now. There’s someone else, I can see the pub and there is another racer ahead, where has he come from? Come to Papa. Medium pace behind him then kick down, go, fast, must demoralise, cannot allow this to turn into a race. Another one, bandana man. The end is there, I can see the finish line. Zoom past. He is not happy about this. The last scrap left. And we’re there. There’s lovely, lovely water, there’s bananas, there’s endless flapjacks. Am I in heaven? Someone is placing a lump of granite over my head on a red string. It’s over, we did it. Caspar and Eddie are there. It’s glorious. The whole experience, totally glorious.

 

RL             

The down was hard – I turned my ankle,

Keep cheerful of mind, don’t dare rankle.

The pain was eased by 5 km of bog,

But progress was slow: a real slog.

At times I’d disappear up to my knees,

The hard ground ahead – a relative breeze.

 

Through bracken, steep paths, the finish line in sight

Block out the pain, finish fast and light.

The cheers of the Walri accompanied my finish,

I had done this thing which no one could diminish.

The deepest, steepest, highest, hardest

Add to that list the very lastest.

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A happy ending?

IB               Straight onto a massage bed, Caspar beside me. Masseur barely does a thing, apparently it’s not supposed to be a sports massage. Up again, here’s Romes, looking magnificent as he strides in. I’ve finally stopped eating flapjacks and rehydrating. Lights out for us and on the Wasdale Tri – this year was the last one. Incredible to be a part of the merciless, relentless finale.

EW            Thank God none of us had to use our whistles.

 

Wasdale Triathlon Event Review

CP

Packing whistle, map, compass and foil,

The train idly hugs coast from Carlisle,

A Rear mech and to trace,

Any ken on this race,

Are botherations which add to the toil.

The Deepest, the Coldest, the last.

Into the depths of Wast Water we’re cast,

The sun creeps up over Scafell,

And we embrace the sheer hell

With which we are voluntarily tasked.

 

The Steepest, to daunt, to appall,

Gears fail, people push, people fall

Wrynose comes and she goes,

Hardnott defeats today’s foes

But we crest, now descending green sprawl.

 

The Highest, the Hardest, the peak,

Over rocks, down scree and through creek,

We stumble, we crawl,

We abseil and haul,

Through bogland the finish we seek.

 

Taxi, train, cycle, tube and then flight,

Wasdale is left to the night,

Munich by noon,

There are steins to consume,

The Steepest. The Hardest. About right.

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‘The brave things in the old tales and songs, Mr. Wetbeak: adventures, as Sir Walrus used to call them. I used to think that they were things the wonderful folk of the stories went out and looked for, because they wanted them, because they were exciting and life was a bit dull, a kind of a sport, as you might say. But that’s not the way of it with the tales that really mattered, or the ones that stay in the mind. Folk seem to have been just landed in them, usually — their paths were laid that way, as Lord Stirlingsworth put it.’


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