Friday, 11 October 2013

Snowman Tri 2013

Snowman doesn't look mean there, but he is!
Not that I'm trying to lay blame or anything, but I'm not sure who convinced whom to enter the Snowman Tri. Between Ruth and I, we are probably equally responsible for egging each other on and committing ourselves to a "challenging triathlon" in Snowdonia. In my option, "challenging triathlon" isn't really an adequate description. At the very least they should rename it 'Abominable Snowman Tri', or "Snowman Tri of Doom" or something a bit scarier.

The car park of Plas Y Brenin had been transformed into the transition area. Glancing at the sky, the weather seemed pretty reasonable. It was fairly calm with cloud cover and hint of moisture in the air, so reasonable for North Wales, at least. With transition set up, we wandered down to have a peek at the swim course. There is apparently an entirely different weather system in place from where the car park is to the area where the bridge crosses the lake. A cold wind was gusting fiercely across the water and suddenly we were reassessing our clothing choices.

The err.. beautiful view of the Snowdon horseshoe?!
A last minute dash back to the car had to be made as the referee announced that all competitors must carry full body cover on the run. We obviously hadn't read the pre-race information properly but fortunately I had a pair of leggings and a jacket in the car, phew! Something I definitely had read in the information was that - unlike most triathlons - neoprene socks and gloves would be allowed. That could only mean one thing: it was going to be very, very cold.

After the final safety briefing, we headed for the water, which had been measured at a balmy 13.1°C. There was a ten minute countdown and most of the 200-strong crowd were being very polite and allowing anybody else to go in first. I managed to wait until there were 3 minutes to go before actually getting in. I thought I was hardcore enough going in without socks and gloves so I didn't plan to hang around in there for longer than necessary at the start. As we waded out to the start line, our feet sunk into soft, squelchy stuff; it was actually quite a pleasant sensation compared to wandering barefoot across the gravel and I dug my feet in to try to keep them a little warmer.

The swim was into the wind and felt like you were going nowhere. Not only that but the chop was horrendous. Fortunately, after about 10 seconds, I noticed quite a number of people were still walking in the not-very-deep water, so I joined them for as long as I could. Once swimming again, I started to suffer, I couldn't get into a rhythm at all; even breaststroking didn't help as I was still getting mouthfuls of water with every breath. Whether it was the cold, asthma or panic, I'm not sure, but the wheeze was coming on strong. A couple of other swimmers stopped to see if I was okay and one of the kayakers asked if I wanted some help but I was pretty determined not to get help for a 750m swim. I ended up going onto my back and just kicking toward the first buoy. The way back in was much nicer but to be honest, by the time I'd made it to that point I think a punch in the face would probably have been nicer too. By the time I made it back to the comfort of the brown, underfoot squidge, I had vowed to never do a swim in a b*&@&y triathlon ever again.

Thank goodness for the bike. The first few miles were tough, a gradual ascent into a decent headwind but that only lasted for 4 miles or so before a fantastic, long descent into the depths of the National Park. I wish we'd had a chance to recce the route because you could have really gone for it on the downhills, but I erred on the side of caution instead. At around seventeen miles the proper climbing; slowly but surely, I was catching people up and loving life on the bike. The haunting memories of the swim faded away with every pedal revolution.

The climb did go on a bit. I didn't mind, I love a "good gradient". There was something sadistically satisfying about hearing the groans of other triathletes as we continued to crest false summits. I had managed to overtake one chap and couldn't help a wry smile as I turned a corner to a legful of up and moments later heard him turn the same corner and cry out, woefully "Seriously?!". All that climbing was worth it; at the summit, the road opened out to a glorious descent into the valley. It was about ten miles worth of fast, open, meandering loveliness with stunning views. The loveliness ended at Betws Y coed, where unfortunately we had to turn back into the killer headwind and commence the final five mile slog back to Plas Y Brenin.

Now, the run. Not really a run at all, unless you are a fell-running mountain goat. I tied my compulsory jacket around my waist, and eagerly began to hike up the mountain trail. For me, running was impossible. It must have been quite a sight to see the real fell-runners going up but by the time I'd gotten to this point, every single person was trudging their way up with their hands on their thighs.

A group of brilliantly high-spirited marshals manned a stile that signified only one mile to the top. It was a long, foggy, cold, boggy, wet, windy mile. I was so pleased to see a green flash of Ruth coming safely back down the mountain. We were taking it all very seriously, we stopped for a quick hug and a chat before plodding onward.

I was so elated when I finally reached the summit cairn, perhaps even mildly delirious. It may have been the delirium but I'm sure one of the marshals told me it didn't count unless you licked the stone? I went with a hug and hoped that was enough. Disappointment washed over me as I realised there was not a photographer at the summit to capture this momentous time but I got over it pretty quickly and felt a sudden surge of energy as it really was all downhill from here. I tried to "think fell-runner" as I tottered down, avoiding the slippery bits, jumping into bogs and generally scaring myself as my feet started to go too fast for the rest of my - very tired - body.

I couldn't help myself from doing a squeal of delight as I passed the last marshals and hung a right. The final kilometre followed a gentle forest trail and was the only bit of the whole "run" that was properly runnable. Nine kilometres and nearly two hours after leaving T2, I crossed the finish line.

"Amazing..", I stated to Ruth, "..apart from the swim, which was awful. I'm so over triathlon, swimming is rubbish".
"Just put it down as a bad swim, you've never had one before, now you have. That's it." She responded, sensibly.
"Hmm.. maybe".

Later, in the car..
"We should definitely do this again next year"
(Both) "Yep"

We never learn.

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