~ by Nat
I’ve been enjoying life as part of Kendal Tri for a few years now, and I generally respond well to a bit of a challenge. I first did Kendal Sprint four years ago, the day after my first century ride (Wiggle’s Yorkshire sportive). I then got to know Chris and Sarah Ruston; Chris convinced me my next tri should be “A Day in the Lakes”, a hilly half-iron (pre storm Desmond so Kirkstone and Shap were still in the route)… a tough but enjoyable challenge and I was hooked.
Jump forward to 2018 and I was harbouring a secret challenge. Spring went well. I was regularly enjoying hilly runs, gradually upping the distance; also hitting quite a few hills on the bike, on and off road. I generally enter the Wheelbase Spring classic and this year was no exception, the difference being that this year I got stronger as the day went on. My next challenge was the Lakeland Loop; longer, more climbing, and finished with Hardknot, Wrynose, and Blea Tarn. Another successful day out. A few people started asking what I was training towards; I told everyone I was training for Struggle Dales (107miles with nearly 11’000ft of up) and my Coniston Trail Marathon (my first marathon)…this was the truth, but not the whole truth. I’d also signed up for Jurassicman, a full iron-distance sufferfest on the Jurassic coast!
Struggle Dales and Coniston Marathon were on consecutive weekends at the end of May / start of June. Hot, hard, and thoroughly enjoyable. While both of these events took a lot out of me neither of them totally wiped me out. I took a little confidence from this for my ‘big secret’, had a couple of easier weeks, then started building the training back up.
July I had some different work to normal, two weeks supporting an English coast-to-coast for a National Geographic holiday group. I enjoy the work, but it meant two weeks away from my normal routine, two weeks of loading and unloading large suitcases into a minibus, two weeks of very soft beds, two weeks without any floorspace for doing my daily core-strength stuff. Day 8 of 13 I had a bit of a back twinge, but I told myself it was only minor. Day 10 another, a little worse. Day 13 I got home; tired, sore and a little concerned as race day was just over 4 weeks away. Over the next couple of days I discovered that any running or biking aggravated my back, my final couple of “peak” training weeks were a write-off.
To put a little back story on this. I’ve had intermittent back issues all my adult life, since a serious hip injury in my late teens. I generally manage it through a mixture of core strength work and the superb team at Body Rehab.
I spent the next few weeks basically s****ing myself about the race. Not training…but trying to resolve my stiff and twinging back; but also had several depressed days of comfort eating. Mid-August came round, and despite feeling nervous and unfit I decided that I had to at least give it a go; I would have regretted not trying.
Friday 17th I headed south. Saturday 18th I arrived at race HQ (a campsite) and checked in. I had a little walk, checked my kit (yet again), deposited the appropriately labelled bags with the right people, and cooked dinner. I chatted to some of my fellow racers, great people, then headed to bed ready for the stupidly early start. The howling storm outside didn’t exactly aid a restful night.
Sunday 19th: up, breakfast, dressed, final prep, 2nd breakfast, then head for the minibus…all before dawn. The logistics that Brutal Events provide are excellent, as is their whole team. We were shuttled down to Budleigh Salterton for the race briefing where we saw the effects of the previous couple of days of wind. Apparently some people withdrew from race after looking at the sea (they’re the sensible ones), undoubtedly the roughest water I’ve ever swam in and the colour of red house bricks with all the churned up sediment. The course was changed slightly to make it easier to manage for the safety cover. Out through the huge waves to the first bouy, 90degree turn, then 6 laps of a lateral out/back parallel to the beach. Swimming was an erratic affair to say the least, I don’t think I linked more than two “normal” strokes together in the entire 2.4miles. While being tumbled back towards the beach after my 6th lap I vomited for a third time, and felt my back spasming as I did so. I landed next to startled looking marshall who checked I was ok before helping me to my feet and pointing me up the beach. 1hr33min, I’d hoped for around 1hr20 in good water so was fairly happy with that. I took my time in T1 knowing that I had a long day ahead. I spoke to some other racers, who all agreed that we’d just survived the most epic swim of our lives; I even did a few stretches to check my back out before heading out.
The Jurassic coast may not have any mountains, but it certainly has steep roads. The 112miles to Swanage has over 8’600ft of climbing on them, all of which I’d ridden in May so I knew what to expect. Aware of my back I did a few sums, and came up with an average speed that would get me into T2 with about an hour to spare (figuring I would use up some of that time at the feed stations, and the rest was saved for mechanicals / unexpected issues). The harshest climbs all come in the first 40 miles and a group of around 7 or 8 of us all kept leap frogging each other depending on where our strengths lay. The first feed station came after a few climbs and I was spinning along nicely. 60something miles in and my back had another little twinge, I stood in the pedals and moved my back around as best I could, then settled back in. After that each incline got slower, and more painful. The 500ft climb out of Portesham at around 70miles had my back screaming, but knowing that after that climb it was a gentle descent to the next feed station at 77miles I figured push on and deal with it there.
I rolled into the feed station in agony, and struggling to breathe. Unclipped my left foot, couldn’t unclip my right. The two guys at the feed station were awesome. They helped me off my bike, at which point I looked like I had scoliosis with my chest pulled a considerable distance to the right by the spasms. They very kindly and gently told me my day was over (although I guess I already knew), and kept me warm and fed while sorting transport out and contacting the organisers. I was gutted, but I always knew it was a gamble. I was even more disappointed because this years Jurassicman was advertised as being the final one, no second chances.
I can’t speak highly enough about all the organisers / marshalls / etc at Brutal events. I was so well looked after. I was taken to the finish (a village hall) re-united with my spare clothing, fed and watered, and frequently checked on (including being offered a lift to hospital, which I refused, it’s not the first time I’ve been through this sort of thing…although it’s not often I get a couple of inches out of alignment).
Nearly two months later I’m still dealing with the aftermath; some days I’m feeling strong, other days I need to do several rounds of exercises and it takes 20minutes to put my socks on. It’s certainly been a season of mixed fortunes. But now is the important bit… Assess, learn, apply.
I’ve learnt to love hills, on the bike & on foot.
I’ve learnt how to fuel myself correctly.
I’ve discovered I can train for 100+ mile hilly rides and hilly marathons at the same time.
Moving forward I’ll be keeping Yoga and strength training in my programme all year round.
Learn what your body needs, and make opportunities not excuses.
Never ignore a niggle.
On an additional note. I’ve recently discovered that Jurassicman will return in 2020…..Who fancies a challenge?