The weather app was probably the most used app on my phone in the last week. Dean and I were heading up to the Lake District to take part in the Lakesman Half triathlon, deferred from 2020. We’d tackled the full distance event back in 2018 and thought that doing the half would be a nice excuse to go back to the area and perhaps spend a little more time enjoying it. We’d seen previously how quickly the weather can change out there, having seen cyclists battling round the country lanes in driving rain on the day before race day, only for it to be beautiful sunshine on the day itself. Hoping for the best, planning for the worst.
An early start was necessary on Saturday to get us up there in time to register and thankfully it was an uneventful journey. We had time to register, rack our bikes, suss out the entrances and exits of transition and enjoy a pint before finding some dinner and checking in to our B&B, the same one we’d stayed at before, run by 7-time Everest summitter. As we approached the race HQ we saw the finishing arch, with its flashing lights and motivational music pumping out. I started to get really excited and enjoyed the feeling of things being familiar.
It was a sunny afternoon so that pint in the sunshine was thoroughly enjoyable. I struck up a conversation with a chap wearing a Midnight Man finisher t-shirt who was also enjoying a drink with his wife and two dogs at the table next to us. The event takes place in Dartford, very close to where I grew up. It’s easy to strike up conversation prior to events like this where most people are staying over. The whole town was swamped by event t-shirts and sport related tattoos. In our wisdom we’d not booked a table for dinner but Dean’s skills of persuasion came into effect and we secured a table for an hour at a lovely Italian. It was still early in the evening but we also had an early start so we retired to our room to sort out our kit and wind down ahead of an early night.
At 4:45am my alarm went off. I’d like to say I lept out of bed full of enthusiasm but reality was that I rolled out of bed, fumbled for my phone on the opposite side of the room, flung open the curtains and stumbled to the bathroom before I could consider falling back to sleep. Half an hour later, after a breakfast of weetabix and alpen with banana we were out the door and following other bleary eyed athletes down a path we’d not been down before (are you sure this is the right way?) hoping we’d end up at transition.
I’m now completely sold on the concept of transition bags. Previously athletes were given kit bags for each part of the transition and there was a change tent. This year it was more traditional with no tent and everything being by your bike. Boxes of a certain size were allowed but I don’t see the appeal of man handling those whilst also maneuvering a bike. My tri bag had all the right compartments and pockets and made set up a breeze. Just as well because soon I was pouring water down my wetsuit (thanks for the tip Hannah) and kissing Dean farewell on the shore of Derwent Water. Athletes were given the option not to do the swim this year due to swimming facilities not having been as accessible during lock down so Dean opted out and I’d opted in. Despite only having swum twice this year I knew I needed to give it a go. I’d get round by hook or by crook and it’s too lovely a place not to swim if you have the opportunity. This year’s swim had a rolling start which I really liked. I got sudden nerves on my way down to the water which Technical Official Jamie helped to quell with some kind words.
A few strokes of front crawl, a few strokes of breaststroke, I was struggling to find my rhythm and I swore at myself. Try again. Goggles are fogging, best sort that out. A sudden exclamation beside me from one of the many wetsuit clad, blue cap wearing swimmers “It’s you!”. I played along, having absolutely no idea who it was. Bit more crawl, bit more breaststroke, a mix of sighting correctly and sighting as I used to (incorrectly). Every stroke gets me closer to finishing. The water was beautifully clear and cool, the scenery so stunning that once again I almost didn’t want to finish. But I did, with a big grin on my face as I jogged my way to my bike.
Unusually this was the bit I was most confident about. Hills? Pah, I’ve done loads of them recently. Miles? Bring them on! I sucked down a gel and got on with it. Absolute bliss. The sun started to break through, the scenery was stunning, I found a good rhythm and pace, chatted to other participants as we played leapfrog down the country lanes and enjoyed the feeling of being strong. Dean had been able to set off as the first swimmer came into transition so I knew he had a head start on me but my heart fell when I saw him roadside at about 30 miles, fixing a puncture. I hoped he’d catch me up but knew he was dealing with shoulder and back issues so it was very much a suck-it-and-see day for him.
The course felt lumpier than the full distance course but the last 15 miles were harder work still. My mantra throughout was “this should feel easy” as I didn’t want to ruin my legs for the run, but I felt myself flagging in the last few miles despite fuelling consistently. The sound of transition and the isight of the marshals put that grin back on my face and I sashayed back to my rack spot and set off on the run.
I had no idea how I was going to fare but I’d done the maths and I knew I had plenty of time to complete the section even if I ran/walked it. I was still scouring the course for Dean, hoping I’d see him on one of the switch backs or even roadside, but no sign. Head down, get in the game, left foot, right foot, keep moving forward. It was HOT. And someone, in their infinite wisdom, had included a set of STEPS in the run course. And because this is a lapped course, we had to do them three times. I swore my way up the first time and then used the second and third times as an excuse to walk and eat or drink. I adore the run route, not for its scenic nature (it’s not) but for the camaraderie. Every marshal, every spectator and even the majority of the athletes (the ones who aren’t quite broken yet) cheer you on. It’s magnificent.
Three laps later, my aching hip flexors and I were heading towards the finish line and I swa Dean, on the side lines, hand outstretched to hi five me. I was so glad to see him. I ran through the finish banner, arms outstretched in celebration and almost burst into tears. The shorter distance was no less hard, it’s just hard in different ways. I looked at my watch; I’d completed it in under 7 hours. I was very happy with that. It was only later, after I’d hobbled my way out of transition and was sitting on a bench with Dean forcing myself to eat a cheese and pickle roll that I realised that I had achieved a new PB by 24 minutes. Given I’d barely swum and I knew my run time wasn’t my best, this was HUGE! I was gutted that Dean hadn’t felt up to doing the run but it was the right choice for him and he had mentally prepared himself for the possibility so we will leave it at that for now.
Later that afternoon, and that was one of the nice things about doing the half distance, we did have more time to relax, whilst sitting outside another cafe the “Midnight Man” and his wife passed by. We ended up sitting at adjacent tables again for more conversation during which time I discovered that it was he who had exclaimed to me in the lake. I mean, what are the chances? I love those 24 hours after the event as they’re punctuated by knowing looks from other people also wearing finisher shirts, demolishing ice creams and huge plates of pasta, people who have a slightly haunted look in their eyes or the remnants of race number tattoos on arms or legs. Even at service stations on the way home the following day we were striking up conversation with people we’d never met.
We celebrated early, fell asleep early but also woke up early the following morning. My hip flexors were extremely tight so we took a wander around the town before our hearty breakfast, to see the lake and pick up some pasties for the journey home. We would have loved to have spent more time exploring but we didn’t have the leave to spare. Maybe next time. I thoroughly enjoyed the distance, the race organisation was top notch as before and I really surprised myself. Maybe a sub 6.5hr half ironman is within reach…