(Apologies for the lack of pics – we’re having issues with WordPress that is taking some sorting!)
Slateman 2016 by Gareth Crabb
Got a spare 15 mins? Grab a chair, a drink and have a read. The Slateman journey started as many other race pacts…at an award ceremony fuelled with alcohol. ‘Take a Gander’ for summer Duathlon’s prize giving was the venue with a few of the usual suspects present, full of bravado, all giving the nod for this outing to Wales.
The eventual Lincsquad list for the Savage included Gary Horner, Mark Connolly, Paul Mcewan, Malc Marshall, Richard Anness and myself. Competing in the Full distance were Rob Marshall and Steve Cannings.
So there was the line up, none of Lincsquad’s elite but a spirited, handsome bunch determined to do the club proud.
For anyone who isn’t aware, the Slateman Triathlon is up there with the toughest Triathlons around. The distances aren’t necessarily extreme, the ‘full’ somewhere between standard triathlon and half Ironman distances. It’s the mixture of low water temperature, tough climbs/descents and exposure to the elements in this unpredictable part of Wales, that make for a memorable weekend, attracting high calibre athletes as well as mere mortals all after a piece of slate.
The full distance is on the Sunday but if that is too much you can take part in the Slateman sprint on the Saturday. Although the sprint distances are about half that of the full, the major ascents are still present, making the sprint itself a good challenge. If you’re brave/crazy enough to do both, it is known as the Slateman Savage. Your reward for doing both, is a neon pink swim hat and yellow T-shirt, the colour choice must be some kind of twisted Welsh sense of humour.
The forecast for the weekend according to the ever reliable BBC(not!), was a mixture of heavy/ light rain and medium wind for the Saturday and glorious sunshine/light wind for the Sunday. So, mind thought was, to battle through Saturday and then bake in the sun on Sunday.
I arrived and registered on the Friday evening and had a drive up Penypass which formed the main part of the sprint bike course…Gulp, I wish I hadn’t!…a very tasty climb, I just hoped the climbing on the recent Majorca tri camp would prove valuable.
A terrible Friday night’s sleep under canvas due to the wind and rain and Saturday morning was here in a sodden Llanberis. The usual bustle of transition commenced. Check, check and check again, wetsuits on, photos and then a steady walk across a field to the lake, whilst dodging the sheep crap. We were informed the water temperature was 12.9 degrees. Hmmm, I think they took the measurement from the shallow edge because 10m in and I enjoyed the ever pleasant head freeze. After applying the internal heating system, I felt much better and the 100+ pink hats were soon off.
Now, we all have our own targets every race, for me this weekend was all about getting through both days, uninjured. I didn’t actually have a time goal. That said… Anyone who knows me knows how ultra competitive I get. It’s a rare affliction I have to live with…and so, this weekend I considered my competition in the form of Gary Horner and Paul Mcewan. I have history with Gary whereby he normally smashes me on the bike and I normally catch him on the run. Paul has been in great form recently and usually does me on the swim and bike and not far off on the run.
The 400m swim went without incident and I was soon running through the funnel of supporters to transition. A smooth transition and I was out on the bike to endure 20k of hills, wind and rain. I didn’t know the position of anyone else but assumed Paul and Gary were ahead. Half way up Penypass Paul appeared and after pleasantries were exchanged he was off. It was an everlasting, killer of a climb which wasn’t even rewarded by a nice decent due to the wet. The roads were winding and slippery, only a madman…and Hinchy(same thing I guess) would push it down these. I managed to keep Paul in sight and arrived in transition just after him.
Transitions – The fourth discipline and definitely my best. Not wishing to sound a bit sad but it’s free time! By simply being prepared and well rehearsed, you can grab yourself minutes on other competitors. On the full Slateman, out of 840 entrants my transition times positioned 8th and 15th putting me up with the Pro’s(shame I can’t say the same for the 3 other disciplines) My strength turns out to be Paul’s weakness and after his transition antics, my good friend, now claims rights to the title ‘Captain Chaos’.
Needless to say I exited T2 some time ahead of Paul and out onto the 6k run. The flat, first quarter of a mile was a short lived pleasure and the rest is a blur of up, up, up, down a bit, up a load more and so on. The full Slateman has the famous zig zag track through the slate mine which everyone talks about. The sprint rises to the same height but does so through woodland on steep treacherous tracks littered with boulders, rocks and tree roots, and in the rain, it was like that famous old Bon jovi album. I was about half way up the major climb when the legs decided to go on strike and I went flat on my face. As when anyone falls, I flew back up in an adrenaline fuelled panic as if it never happened. Fortunately no damage done other than bruised hands and dented pride, especially when I heard Paul say ‘are you ok?’ , he’d caught me up and seen it…Great!! He was stronger on the climbs and overtook me. Thankfully the rest of the run went without issue and during the descent in the last mile I managed to steal the lead again and carried this through to the finish where the many supporters lined the now sunny, finish. Paul was just behind and then Gary a short time after that. Richard, Mark and Malc also finished without any problems and we were all ready for an afternoon of rest before tomorrow’s ordeal.
The rest of Saturday was spent drying kit, taking ibrofen(right hand was starting to swell nicely) , checking the forecast and refuelling at the local Wetherspoons in Caernarfon. The finer weather meant for a better night’s sleep and the alarm was soon ruining the peace.
Whilst travelling to Llanberis, the early morning sun had turned into a miserable grey. Promises of a glorious day were quashed and replaced with more downpour. What is it with this place? It has its own climate and does what it wants. I despair! Setting up in a depressing transition was done at the last minute and we were soon at the water’s edge ready for round two. Today we were joined by Steve and Rob who were both sprightly and not suffering the stiffness enjoyed by the Pink hat crowd.
The waves went by and soon we were poised for the 1000m swim. An uneventful swim round the triangle shaped course and quickly we were nearing the bank. I started the normal fast leg kick for the last few metres to wake them up for running and soon I was in transition and then out on the bike for 51k of torture. Today, I was sporting my new Lincsquad T-shirt trisuit and assumed it plenty warm enough without the need of a jacket. The rain was still relentless and so I headed up Penypass for the second time wondering again where Paul and Gary were. The climb was just as enjoyable as it was yesterday, and the only positive was the warmth being generated. As I was nearing the top, I clocked the white Boardman pass me and I wished Paul well for the ride. I tried to stay with him but he’s annoyingly strong on the bike. The climb gets steeper towards the top and with fatigued legs; a mighty effort is required to reach the summit. (Some competitors were walking). Ascent over, it was time for a good spell of downhill to Capel Curig, this is where the fun should start. Not the case. With the rain still pelting down, and wind chill from the sustained descent, I was really getting cold. After reaching Capel Curig the road stared to climb but I still couldn’t get warm and was seriously suffering. The rain persisted and I was going to a bad place. Steve Cannings had previously informed me to look out for the beautiful views on the A5 from Capel Curig to Tregarth. I couldn’t bring myself to admire anything. I was shivering badly, had no feeling of hands or feet, I hated cycling, I hated Triathlons, I hated Llanberis and all the scenery around it. Not good. I knew I still had long way to go yet. I remember passing another competitor who was wearing a rain jacket…I hated him. Head down, one rotation after another…mental strength. The rain eventually stopped and I spotted the smallest bit of blue sky. The side of a mountain ahead had an area of sunshine and I was now steaming towards it. Oh the relief. Tregarth came and I headed back towards Llanberis. I saw a sign… Llanberis 5 miles…Joy! Shortly after this I was treated to a motivational speech Horner style… ‘COME ON SLOW ASS’ as he eased past me. I may have sworn at him.
Finally, T2 arrived and low and behold, Llanberis was baking in sunshine. In the words of EMF…Unbelievable! Feet already out of shoes, a smooth descent just before the dismount line and straight into running. Beautiful. Then I heard a marshal shout “YOUR SHOE, YOUR SHOE”. One of my cycling shoes had obviously come detached, but there was no way I was going back for it. I can buy some more, I’ve got 2 people to catch.
A quick transition and I was running hard. What a joy to be warm and back on two legs to tackle the 11k run course. After about half a mile I spotted my first victim, ‘COME ON SLOW ASS!’ as I caught up to Gary, repaying the encouragement. I enquired about Paul, and proceeded off on the hunt. Other than a couple of lumps, the first mile or so was fairly flat before the infamous zigzag climb through the slate mine. My flat run speed served me well as I reached Paul before the climb and managed to create a lead, although I expected to see him again during the climbs. The slate mine came and I crossed the timing sensor for the Quarry mine challenge. This is a measured mile of pure steep ascending through the Quarry. I wasn’t gunning for a particularly fast time but I did manage to jog the whole way up, although in some areas I reckon you could have walked quicker. Now that was some climb! I had expected to be caught by now but there was no sign of Paul, so I pressed on, lungs burning, legs screaming, managing a run/waddling action whilst recovering on some relatively level tracks.
Then I entered a woodland section, back on the same perilous tracks from yesterday. As I neared a female competitor she slipped and went down just as I did yesterday. I politely checked she was ok and continued running. Once out of hearing I let out an uncontrollable school boy giggle. It sounds awful but I know how she felt, probably cursing that her mishap was witnessed. I continued on and then was hit with the steep concrete path climb. Mentally, you prepare for the zigzag climb, but this section catches you out when you think all the hard work has been done. A couple of obscenities muttered, head down and another killer climb scaled. Lots of downhill now, which was better, but by now every stride was pounding the thighs. Another little nasty rise in the woods and then it was down to finish. Utter relief to see the funnel of supporters. There was a moment where I could of broke down and sobbed, but not today. Head up, take the applause, a few high 5’s and smile. After claiming my piece of slate and Savage T-shirt I waited for Paul. He wasn’t far behind and I saw the same relief as he crossed the line. Handshakes and congratulations were exchanged and then we stocked up with the free sweets, chocolate, biscuits, bananas etc. We joined the support crew and cheered everybody else in.
I’ve completed a few tough events in my short time including an ironman distance, and this race is right up there, putting your endurance and resilience to the test. I urge all athletes to give this one a go, no matter what level you’re at. You won’t be disappointed; I just hope you’re blessed with better weather. Congratulations go out to all the Lincsquadders completing…A cracking effort!!
Big thanks to Sharon, Shona, Nichola and Nicola for your cheers, photos, and support. You might not see much of us during the race but having you there really does makes a huge difference.
Would I come here again? Well, yes, but only to support others. For me this box is well and truly ticked.