Having qualified at Dublin 70.3 to race the World Championships in Australia I thought my 2016 racing season was set and would culminate in Mooloolaba and the World Championships. That was until I read The Race Within by Jim Gourley and my Ultra Triathlon fate was sealed. Having entered and got on with the training I found myself in Betws-y-Coed in North Wales instead of the eastern coast of Australia and more than a few times this weekend I questioned my decision to do UMUK in Wales rather than take my place in World Champs in Australia!
This is my take on the weekend. Out of 25 interested competitors, 9 signed up, 7 made it to the start line.
Day One: 10k swim and 90 mile bike
Swim -(5 x 2k loops, feed station off a jetty for each loop) the Lake at Bala is renowned for being cold and unpredictable. On Friday the conditions were near perfect/ small choppy annoying waves and not too cold (until about 7k into the swim ). A few people had an extra layer under the wetsuit which I would try out if I did this again and everyone had a neoprene cap*lifesaver*. I stopped every loop for some miso soup and Clif Bloks I got out of swim 3rd place having swum a 3:34, Marco and Mikel were about 20 minutes ahead - I was pretty frozen and had a 15-20 minute transition to warm up, meanwhile Iñigo who had got out in 4th place swimmer got on his bike ahead of me. One competitor, Javier, dnf'd (6 competitors remain)
90 mile Bike- after warming up completely and putting in a lot of clothes, I set out at a comfortable pace- I knew I had plenty of time to finish and wanted to conserve something for days 2-3. I had bad cramps and could only stomach drinks of coke and Xendurance Fuel 5 to start off then started eating Clifbars/ Builders Bars and Clif Bloks to keep my energy up - and a well timed Clif Gel (double espresso) to get me through the last 20 miles. Meanwhile Toni and Carlos passed me around mile 45 - nice thing is, they were all at the finish line to welcome me home! I always knew I would be last and had come to terms- but it still sucks!
Day 2 170 mile bike
What can I say- the weather started out bad and just continually got worse. It was a matter of head down and pedal. Pedal. Pedal some more. The rain was relentless-thank goodness for my support crew (Neil and Gideon) who found a pub with hand dryers!!! Gideon tried to dry out my jackets while I did a full kit change and felt halfway human again. Neil gave me his 2 shirts off his back and I put on both jackets- off I went into the pouring rain. At some point I think mile 80 Toni came off his bike on railway tracks and broke his collarbone. (Then there were 5)
I was confident in my ability to finish within 12 hours- until about mile 145. I had been soaked through for about 10 hours and the run in to the finish still had plenty of climbs, the wind was picking up and was great when it was behind- but pretty much stopped you in your tracks or blew you across the road otherwise. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of a good crew!!! They got me to the finish with 3 minutes to spare ( the cutoff was extended for safety reasons- but I still made it!) I've been told this was the worst weather they've had in 5 years- as if the 170 miles wasn't bad enough! I ate as much as I could on the bike, Clifbar, Builder Bars, Bloks, chocolate, miso soup, crisps, and the all important espresso gels toward the end...I like to call them rocket fuel. Once again everyone and their crew were at the finish line. I used this opportunity to cry like a baby. And thank God it was all over.
Day 3 52.4 mile run
My crew shrunk by one today, so it was up to Neil to get me through...
I woke up feeling sick! Like throw up sick. Couldn't eat and didn't have any coffee (a sure sign that I am feeling unwell!)
I grabbed some rice cakes and headed to the start line- 12 hours to do 2 marathons, I can do this! I stuck to the Xendurance Fuel 5 and rice cakes to about mile 20 when I thought maybe I was feeling sick because I'm running 20 miles and haven't eaten anything!! So 2 Welsh cakes - started feeling better- 2 more Welsh cakes and I actually felt OK ... From then on I tried to eat a little bit every time I saw Neil. I was keeping an eye on time and the way I was feeling, and the amount I was walking, I was going to come in before 12 hours- the fly in the ointment was Neil urging me to keep jogging because if I walked I wouldn't make the cut off... My brain wasn't working very well, so with constant reminders to keep running I kept running- and ran 11:18. (Neil was working off the worng cut off time off by 30 minutes and was panicking- but it showed me that I actually could and can keep running even when I think I can't)
And everyone was at the finish line again to cheer me in!
There was a nice ceremony and buffet at the end, by day 3 everyone is like familia (my Spanish is picking up haha) with speeches and everyone gets a little prize.
UMUK is a fantastic event, family run (very popular with the Spanish!) I don't know why it isn't more popular with the endurance crowd here in the UK... It's a long way, the weather is iffy but other than that, it's a beautiful part of the world- the run course especially is amazing. It's a hard weekend- the guys at the front were racing which looking at the videos was a completely different experience than my solo race against the clock. Tips for future competitors: CREW get yourself a couple of positive up beat friends who can read a map and will take care of you. Prepare for any kind of weather, if you think you have enough kit- throw in some more. Prepare for any whim of appetite - it's nice to have know you've got it if you start to crave it. Swim swim swim swim . Get comfy on your bike- real comfy... live on your bike, get used to sitting in that saddle for days.
One of the many things I've taken away from this is to eat- and train your body to eat and absorb the nutrition - and train at the same time of day that your event is... Sounds logical if sometimes impractical, but I would have worked on this aspect a lot if I realised just how important it is.