No Fear. No Emotion. No Glory.
Standing at the start line of the world’s toughest double Ironman triathlon can be daunting …and it was!
With an ice cold lake starring back at me, at 7am it finally dawned that I had 4 hours of swimming to do followed by 24 hours of cycling up and down the mountain passes of Snowdonia and to finish two back-to-back mountainous marathons.
The gun went off and suddenly your mind changes from one of anticipation, excitement, trepidation and sheer fear, to something more akin to the thought of a hell of a long day at the office, with a pile of work to get through.
42 hours of endurance racing means that only the foolhardy hit the start with a sprint. I settled into the swim at a steady pace and used the guys around me for direction; just following their splash.
Colder and colder; even a cup of tea thrown down the front of my wetsuit getting out at the aid station every lap, wasn’t working anymore. Endurance entitled sport is that so for a reason. Three of eight swim laps left and this was fast becoming the toughest swim I’ve ever done. The cold got me this year. Didn’t defeat me, but it got me bad.
After the swim the last thing I wanted to do was to leave the aid tent. I’d walked up briskly from the swim exit knowing how bad I was and had decided I was going to delay the transition to the bike as long as possible; to rewarm but mainly to gather my composure. At this stage, four hours in to a 42hr race, I thought best not let on to the crew know exactly how battered I felt.
Snowdonia scenery is stunning which made the first few laps on the bike the most rewarding ever. The sun had come out to play too. I was rewarming with lovely sunny views over Anglesey Bay. I could not be feeling more different than just a few hours before.
At one stage, for one very brief moment, I was flying around the bike with the eventual race winner. I was motoring up and down the mountain passes as if on a Sunday ride out to the country. Alas, all that was about to pass.
With bright sunshine on the one side and dark skies on the other, the road vibes around Snowdonia are often chalk and cheese. As I tired I could feel the general mood of the weather changing. The forecast was poor; bit of wind and rain. But so far the sun had been tempting me around.
With dusk dropping down slowly, the mood had now changed to a much darker one with drizzle, a sharp bite and a progressive chill. At this stage I knew things were getting real. The crew knew too that the night was going to be long. We’d settled down the general plan but things were changing.
With pace slowing and what was once, for a few minutes, a race with the top guys, things had quickly become a personal challenge just to survive the night on the bike. The winds picked up to gale force gusts. The rain came down heavy. Part of the course was closed down, conditions were treacherous; the worst weather the event has ever experienced. The last time I went up the long mountain pass and I got buffeted and lifted off the ground, I was riding in the middle of the road as the sheer cliff edge on my left hand side looked pretty decisive. I knew this was tricky and I was very grateful to the event organizers for taking sound decisions and closing down that section of the bike course before I went around it again.
So the last two laps had now become the last four. Shorter but encountering the steepest hill gradient of the course four, more, times! My mind was shot at this point. Soaked to the skin and cold to the bone, shivering and half asleep; the crew threw me in the back of van for some sleep.
In my head, that was that. Good night. God bless. I was spent.
‘You’ve got to get up’ shouted the crew. They’d given me half an hour sleep. And I’d slept. And from then on I literally continued because they said so. My mind was too shot and too tired to make decisions of my own any more, so I finally handed over control to the crew. What they said I did. From now on, if we finished or failed, it was solely down to them.
For the last two bike laps, which had now become four incredibly steep laps, sheeting down with rain I was freezing cold and being dressed up by the crew in full ski gear. Shivering and beaten I decided just to keep moving forwards. Rain and wind smacking me in the face; one of the crew joined me on the last part of cycle. Without a distant set of friendly bike lights to follow it would have been game over.
Emotionless I plodded on. Time was eroding. I wasn’t competing anymore, rather simply trying not to give up. Without any more stops, utterly spent, freezing cold, broken and emotionless, I rolled slowly into transition and slumped into a heap on a cheap plastic garden seat. All I wanted was to call it a day. The thought of two mountainous marathons in freezing rain… I really didn’t think so.
Seemed like so many people were ripping wet clothes off me and shouting stuff. The rest of the crew had arrived. All I wanted was calm. But in fairness the complete mis-match of my energy vs theirs probably was exactly what I needed; else it almost certainly would have been game over.
After nearly an hour rub down, redress and full re-fuel, with news in that the treacherous weather had closed the mountain ascent and instead more lake trail laps had been added to compensate, I set off to start ticking them off.
Run walk run walk was the plan and also not to actually stop, just to keep going and eat drink while run walking. First few laps flew by, fastest I’d ever ran. We were overtaking people. The rain was drifting and a chink of sun nervously creeping through the grey sky, the wind had dropped, the Snowdonia scenery game was back on.
But the wheels were about to come off. The sudden burst of energy from the new crew, the refuel and rewarm, meant I’d gone off way too hard on the run. From here on I knew it was going to be survival once again. Lap five and some serious debate with my crew runner, we eventually decided to instruct all the different crew runners to simply hit an hour and a half per lap, which we worked out would get me over the line within the event cut-off. Nothing more, nothing less, walk walk run walk walk.
For the next four laps this worked a treat, but the run bit was no more, we were simply waking as fast as we could without ever stopping, and somehow we were still taking back time on other athletes. So this was now the plan, to walk real fast for the last four and a half hours.
And the big thing I can remember at this stage…. nothing left in the tank, four and a half hours left at least, emotionless, exhausted… I got a darn stone in my shoe! I was walking. Not huge but not small. A painful little bastard stone. The effort to stop, bend down, take off my shoe, sort it, put shoe back on and start again… not such a huge imposition, not seeing as though still so much time left. Whereas my actual thoughts were:
‘fuck it. I can’t be arsed to get it out. I’ve only got four and a half hours left.’
So I left it in. It just seemed as though the effort was just too great, so it stayed in until the end.
The end…?! On the final lap I started to have a few doubts!! The last but one lap the wheels were again falling off. I was waking and making all sorts of bizarre noises. I just couldn’t stop myself; grunting type stuff. Up the steep steep long hill and I thought to myself, thankfully just one more time.
If you’ve ever seen the movie SAW you will understand that seeing characters from that movie fully animated and jumping out at you on a very very long steep tunnel-like narrow hill on the dark would be pretty frightening. It didn’t disappoint. At this stage I was hallucinating pretty badly with images appearing that I didn’t even know I had in my head. I thought best not to alert the crew as the tricky cliffy rocky section was coming up. Rather I hugged the left-hand side of the trail away from the rocky edge. The images were so bad I said to myself that I would not actually do another lap up that hill. The level of fright, discomfort and risk was now not akin to the small green medal I was risking everything for. Just to get through the pitch-black steep rocky forest trail for the last time.
And together, on the last lap the whole crew joined me, over 41 hours later, finally we drifted quietly over the now deserted finish line, to the thunderous applause of the three event organizers. Medal won. Job done. Welcome to the bizarre world of extreme endurance triathlon.
We came 12th overall. Half of all competitors dropped out because of the weather. The worst race conditions they have ever had.
Why do I do these events…? As soon as I have found the answer out myself, you will be the first to know.
Brett Horton (profile)
Extreme Endurance Triathlete
Founder of Brett’s Bootcamp
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