By Sean Baverstock
Brutal Events’ triathlons and duathlons are what most would probably consider slightly different to your average triathlon event. This is highlighted by there only being 298 entrants across the nine events which range from a half distance duathlon/triathlon up to a double full distance triathlon.
All of the events take place on the same courses starting in Llanberis just with a varying number of laps. The course consists of an 8km (5 mile) run course around the electric mountain lake (duathlon) or a swim in the lake itself (triathlon), a 47km (29 mile) bike course around the roads to the base of Snowdon including ascending Pen-y-pass and finally a second run course up and down Snowdon on the Llanberis path with a number of lake laps thrown in too for those doing the longer distance events.
I opted for the half duathlon which entailed one lap of the lake run course (8km/5mi, 170m ascent), two laps of the bike course (94km/58mi, 1500m ascent) and an ascent of Snowdon (14km/9mi, 900m ascent).
It was a 7am start on race day for all events, with 35 competitors starting the half duathlon. I set a target of 60 minutes for the lake run to allow myself to take it easy and settle into such an early start, as well as not tire too much knowing what was still to come.
It took quite a bit of willpower to not get carried away matching pace with the other runners, allowing the majority of people to go past me early on. I knew there was a steep hill on the back section of the route where I could make some ground back up, a tactic that worked as I made it back to transition in a time of 50:53 and in 21st place.
I then set about getting changed for the bike leg. Where in most duathlons and triathlons the priority in transition is getting through as quickly as possible, here it’s about making sure you’re prepared for the next leg. The weather can change in a matter of minutes in Snowdonia and you don’t want to be caught out when you’re 23km away from HQ as there are no shortcuts back and the terrain leaves you quite exposed in places.
It had started raining a few minutes before the start of the race and although it had eased by the time I set out on the bike the roads in Llanberis were soaked. 20km into the first lap on the opposite side of Snowdon though and it was 20C with bone dry roads – proof of how unpredictable the weather conditions can be.
I paced my way up the first ascent of Pen-y-pass, overtaking eight people along the way, and recovered on the long descent back into Llanberis finishing the first lap in 01:50:40. Then 10km into the second lap my back started to play up. This was Sod’s law! In the three years I’ve had the bike I was using I’ve not had a single complaint.
As the lap went on the pain got worse and with it the less power I was able to sustain. I made it back into Llanberis to complete the bike leg in 03:58:31. This was inside the 4 hour target I’d set myself but outside the time I knew I could achieve based on the first lap, which I felt I’d paced perfectly. I’d made up quite a few places though and was now in 11th place so couldn’t complain too much.
My second transition was nearly nine minutes long. Between trying to stretch my back out and making sure I fulfilled the race requirements to be allowed up Snowdon it was never going to be a fast one. There was a mandatory medical check and a minimum kit list that you had to show you were carrying before you could leave transition for the second time. If you fail to satisfy the medic on either account then your race is over; medic’s decision is final.
Once that was done it was a short run through the edge of Llanberis to the bottom of the Llanberis track. The track ramps up in gradient before the tarmac even ends and it only took a few metres of uphill before I knew my back was going to cause me problems going up Snowdon.
Holly, my wife, had been spectating outside transition for the first run and bike laps and had now moved onto the mountain to spectate for the final leg. I figured that there was a good chance she’d have some form of painkillers with her (in hindsight something I should have carried) and giving up wasn’t an option so I knew that if I made it up to where she was and got some painkillers then it would hopefully make the last stretch a bit more bearable. Added to that, although I’d got 14km to go, once I hit the 7km mark it was quite literally downhill all the way to the finish. I quickly worked out that leaning forward is what caused the pain, which is unavoidable when ascending, but as soon as I stood up straight the pain instantly disappeared, which boded well for me getting down quicker than I was going to get up.
For the next 3km I adopted the approach of walking as far as I could, then stopping for a few seconds to stand up right for a break from the pain. After 3km or so a competitor caught me up who I’d briefly talked to on the lake lap. When I explained my problem he kindly offered me some of the Ibuprofen he was carrying and joked that if I ended up beating him he wouldn’t be happy! I inadvertently dropped him about 10 minutes after and didn’t see him again for the rest of the race, though I know he’ll be there again next year!
At around the 5km mark I found Holly, who was standing talking to one of the mountain medics. I was in a dark place mentally at this point, there’s nothing worse than back pain that won’t go away. As assistance is permitted in this event Holly walked the rest of the way to the summit with me, between her encouragement and her observation that she hadn’t seen anybody running the uphill section I started to feel slightly better. She had also got Paracetamol with her which possibly helped mentally, as the Ibuprofen hadn’t touched the pain.
Past the 6km point we started to ascend into the cloud and the weather started to deteriorate, so on went the waterproof jacket. The traffic also started to get worse and it became a challenge to get past the slower walking people. At this point a number of competitors had passed me on their way back down the mountain, but as everybody had put waterproof jackets on it was difficult to see their race number to work out whether they were in the same event as me.
At 7.5km I finally got to the mountain medic stationed at the summit, I just had to get my race number marked off the list then I could start back down the mountain. A combination of knowing all the uphill was done and looking at the guy who’d been given the job of standing at the top of Snowdon in the rain, fighting against the wind to turn the pages on his clipboard had me feeling better than I had for a couple hours.
At 01:39:47 to make it to the summit I was never going to make my target of 2 hours for the Snowdon leg but that didn’t bother me for long as I quickly discovered that descending didn’t cause me any back pain. Less than a kilometre into the descent and I was losing Holly due to the difficulty in getting through the crowds (I suspect I was a little less patient with people in my haste so made better progress), she shouted that she’d see me at the bottom and to just carry on. Within five minutes my mental state had completely changed, and it was as if my back problem had never happened – I was already planning my return next year.
With about 2km to go I’d run out of food and water but I didn’t care. I carried on and crossed the finish line to complete the Snowdon leg in 02:36:38, for a total time of 07:41:30. A time which placed me 17th out of 35 finishers, which all things considered I’m happy with.
Generally I enjoyed the event and thought that it was well organised. All of the event crew had completed one or more of the events which helped, as they knew our pain! I’ll definitely be going back next year with my sights on a top 10 finish.