Steelman Race Report
Following a pleasant drive up the A1 on Friday afternoon, Team Hobley had high hopes for the weekend. The first team activities started shortly after arrival as tents and the event shelter were erected, the barbecues were then lit just as the first rains of the evening began to fall. We soon relocated the barbecues underneath the event shelter trying to keep as dry as possible while the rains fell. A mass weather check ensued as everyone looked on various apps and websites to see when and if the rain was going to stop… it didn’t. Not until we’d gone to bed anyway.
Saturday morning brought a different outlook again, the weather was overcast, but it wasn’t raining….yet! The forecast predicted we’d make it until 8am…by 8:05 the rain had started.
We began getting ready to rack up hoping the rain would stop before we entered transition…..it didn’t. The nerves were probably at their most jangly at this point, did we have everything we needed, was there anything we could do to make the process any more straightforward? Dave Gibbs assisted with our faffing and ensured we were no less prepared than he was…. It wasn’t long before we were at the race briefing and getting ready to enter the lake. We got straight in to begin the acclimatisation, I’m not the strongest swimmer so was pleased to have ten minutes to warm up before the start. The water was lovely and clear and much less cold than I was expecting, a very different experience to Cadney reservoir the week before.
The race started and I set off on the first leg of the longest single event I’d entered. In the previous triathlons I’ve entered I’ve noticed a habit of getting a bit giddy at the beginning of the swim and going off like a windmilling pig. This time I’d started off the back of the group to avoid the worst of the flailing arms and legs, and I remembered to breathe. I was sighting on every breath at the start, and was struggling to see the first buoy among a sea of orange swim hats, so I followed a pair of feet, drafting until I saw the buoy. There was a little bumping at the first turn, but it was mostly respectful, the swimmers around me seemed happy to keep out of my way as I was trying to keep out of their way. I began to relax a little and tried to think about my stroke, even sighting less frequently. This all seemed to be working quite well until I got to the turn buoy at the start of the second lap, I’d relaxed a little too much and took a very wide turn. This is where I was struggling to see the next buoy on the first lap so I was looking for someone to follow again. I’d drifted a bit too wide and had to really increase my effort to try and get back on track, I even began to kick on this stretch and soon got to the buoy…..relax, it’ll soon be over…..
The rest of the swim was pretty uneventful, I even remembered to scoop a gulp of water down the neck of my wetsuit as I got out of the water to help with removing it in transition. As I got out of the water I had the Velcro undone and the zip down pulling my arms out of the suit, it was round my waist as I got to my bike….. the wife was already there and just about to take her bike out so I offered her some encouragement, I cant remember what I said as I was busy putting my helmet on and getting ready to put cycle shoes on……it was then I remembered I still had to take my legs out of my wetsuit, and she was gone.
I could hear the kids shouting at me to hurry up, so I did. I got sat on the grass and gathered my thoughts while putting socks and shoes on, unracked my bike and then dithered about trying to get my arm in my jacket before deciding it wasn’t a day for a jacket and chucking it back on the grass. I was on my way, Ric Longcake shouted I’d need to get a move on to catch Claire as I was leaving transition so I got running to my favourite part of the event, the bike mount. Raised my pace to a trot and looked down to make sure the pedal was at the bottom of its stroke, looked up for the mount line and saw the guy in front of me stopping on the line sorting his pedals out. No problem I adjusted my course slightly to avoid him and stepped onto the pedal with my left while pushing off with my right foot, throwing my leg over the saddle and I was away smiling inwardly for the first time, I must have passed a couple of people there……
The bike route was an undulating course, rolling through the surrounding countryside, a couple of little short sharper rises to keep you concentrating followed later in the lap by a longer incline or two. I’m not the greatest of cyclists and I’d not really made the time to put in the required miles, I’ve not ridden this far without stopping for lunch or a piece of cake before, kept running through my mind, but I was feeling good, it felt easy to maintain this pace……Paul McEwan zipped past with a thumb raised first, then it was a little while before Craig Scott passed me. I wasn’t expecting to live with those guys out here, in my opinion Craig is a good cyclist and Paul’s an animal on the bike. Soon after it was Dave Gibbs turn, he was absolutely flying along and in high spirits as he shouted back that he was “going for it”. I kept going, no point in getting down hearted because your buddies are flying.
The rain, however was really getting to me, my feet were wet and while the rain wasn’t heavy, each time I noticed it had stopped, it started again. Then the wind began to pick up a little, again, nothing too strong but enough to notice and seemingly always in my face. I rounded another bend to begin a steady climb and the wind came with me, I’d crested the rise noticing the rain had stopped, but the wind was still there, rounded another bend and remember shouting out “REALLY!!” as the wind followed me again, then I felt the rain on my face again. It was around this time I doubted that I’d have the mental fortitude to complete double the distance for a full IronMan event (I raise my hat to all you “IronMans” out there).
It wasn’t until about three quarters of the way around the first loop that I was able to pass Claire, she wasn’t sounding too impressed with her bike, telling me her gears weren’t shifting correctly as I passed, I told her not to try and keep up then, as I’d been trying too hard on this first lap. But she’d already got inside my head, and the thought kept coming to me that she didn’t seem very happy, I began wondering if she’d retire from the event. Not likely, she’d have to have a major mechanical to give up on this.
I was pleased to finally complete the first lap just after seeing Jeff Chappill cheering us on, thinking that I’d broken the back of this leg of the race. I even began calculating in my head how much longer I’d be out here if I maintained this speed, what time I could expect to finish in, and how pleased I’d be with myself. Around 30 or so miles completed my thoughts were sharply brought back to a conversation I’d had with coach Stephen Cannings the previous week…. what had he said..?? “if it feels comfortable, you’re still trying too hard”. My legs were definitely telling me I’d been trying too hard on the first lap. The only option I had left was to dig in and try not to lose too much speed on the second half of this leg. It probably wasn’t a lot but I’d slowed, and it was enough to further lower my spirits. Dig in and keep fuelling, was all I had left, I’d been eating flapjack on the first lap and drinking my first bottle. By now I was on the second bottle and rooting through my bag for the next item on the menu. Chewy bars of stuff passed the next few miles until I found some power shots……jelly sweets filled with caffeine. I tried one, it was quite nice, enough chewing to pass the time, and the caffeine delivered a boost. I can’t eat these all at once, I thought, so I rationed them out one every 5 miles, I planned to have my last one just before entering transition.
My next favourite part of the event was rapidly approaching….. I was flying again down the lane towards the dismount line, unclipped my shoes and shifted my left midsole onto the pedal so as not to accidentally clip back in again, swung my leg over the bike and coasted (at speed) the last few metres before making sure I was running before the line. Trotting into transition was not an easy process, but I knew this is where I was going to be seen by the crowds of supporters, this is not the time to look like you’re struggling….. I think I managed to pull it off. Jess Porte and Rachel Brothwells photos tell a different story, but It wasn’t the easiest of runs to rack up. Shoes off, trainers on, helmet off, visor on, pick up my bottle, and I’m off again, out of transition, giving the kids and travelling lincsquad ladies a wave and I’m away up the lane.
After the mount/dismount this is my favourite part of the event, now I’m not a good runner (average at best….) but I’ve done a few runs and I know how every step of this should feel. Settle in and check my pace, that’s much too fast, ease it back. I’d planned to maintain around 9:00 minute miles so when I first checked my watch and its reading 7:30ish I think “ok, lets give it a minute to settle down there’s trees and a few twists and turns on the course”, it’s still at 7:30, ok really slow down now, there’s a long way to go. Finally got it pegged at around 9:00 and began clicking off the miles. It’s a lovely run course on mostly good trails, a couple of stretches are a bit narrow, and there’s a bit along the side of a busy road, but each section is short enough that by the time you’ve done the first lap you’ve got your target waypoints set in your mind for when it gets really tough. Not many people were passing me now and I was feeling OK, I rounded a bend and saw Dave Gibbs ahead, and I was gaining on him. We normally clip along at a similar pace so I thought I’d catch him and enjoy the company for a while. That wasn’t going to happen today as when I did catch him he told me his back was shot and not to wait up for him, I pressed on. Lap one got steadily more uncomfortable for me as my tummy began to growl and gurgle as pressure increased, I was in no position to trust that sensation so I kept on going, weighing up if I could make the whole course or if I needed to find some shrubbery to protect my indiscretions. While I was still looking I crossed the field and saw Shona Cannings, telling me there’s less than a mile of the lap remaining…..”I can make this” I thought…
It was less than a mile before I knew I wouldn’t make it, thankfully Anna Gibbs was around the bend, so I asked if there were any facilities near by, I was very happy to hear that transition was just around the corner, I got closer and closer but still couldn’t see the fabled “portaloo of relief”. A marshall came into view and a brief conversation ensued “ is there a loo near by?” I asked
“are you finishing?” he responded.
I didn’t think he could have heard me correctly, “is there a toilet nearby?” I asked again.
“Are you finishing?” he responded again.
At this point I hadn’t broken my stride and was obviously closing on the turn into transition where I was expecting to be directed, but wasn’t.
“No, where is the toilet!” I responded this time. I didn’t hear the marshall again, as Kev Lovett stepped in front of me and said “its round the corner in transition”
“cheers Kev! “ disaster averted.
I was in, no queue just a mum outside “trap 1” tending her child. In I went hearing her ask “is there any paper in there?” as the door swung shut behind me…. There wasn’t.
“sorry, no!” I called out.
On long runs I have a plastic bag with a few sheets folded into it for situations such as this, unfortunately not enough to share.
I was on my way again, picking up my pace, getting back into my rhythm, but much more comfortably. Happy again that there would be no accidents I was passing the other athletes regularly. Making my way step by step towards the end, trying to encourage the odd walker here or there as I passed, until one chap didn’t hear my approach and jumped out of his skin. I chose to be more careful for the remainder of the run. I remember seeing Stephen Cannings again as I was heading for home, seeing someone else enjoying putting themselves through this much discomfort really gives you a boost knowing that you’ve got this, about 4 miles to go. The run was the place to see the other ‘squadders on this course, a couple of passing places means you can regularly see a friendly smiling face, and this time coming face to face with Charlotte Hampshire stepping up to help out with a weeks notice reminded me of the value of team support. Anna Gibbs had swum the relay leg earlier and come back out on course to help Charlotte to run farther than she’d run before, Shona, was further along the course again waiting to run in with them too.
As I came around the back of the lake I knew my race was almost finished, leaving the trail and getting back on the road I could feel my pace increasing with each step. Now was the time for the finish, I pushed as hard as I could, turning my legs over as quick as I felt they’d go, turned into the finish gate and crossed the line.
Supporters and finishers greeted me as I finished, smiles all around congratulating me on finishing but it was Freya running over for a hug that signalled the end for me, we only had to wait a couple of minutes to see Claire coming in. I breathed a sigh of relief finally knowing now that she’d finished, Freya gave her Mummy a big hug before asking for an ice cream, and Claire shed a tear.
We’d completed our third triathlon each, The Cleveland Steel Man, in 6 hours and 5 minutes for me and 6 hours 11 for Claire. I couldn’t do that twice over I thought……..
Our race was over, but others were still coming in, we took up positions on the edge of the finish chute and cheered as many of the remaining athletes in as we could before Claire began to get cold. Unracking all our bits and pieces and returning them to the camp area there were discussions about the course, how the weather was miserable, and the wind had picked up, and how much people were looking forward to having a shower and getting clean dry clothes on.
It wasn’t long before everyone was back at camp, and people drifted to and from the showers a subdued after party began. Stories of the race mixed with personal achievements and plenty of analysis of how to improve for the next one….. Pizza orders were taken to town and the rehydration commenced while we waited for the delivery to arrive.
I’d like to thank everyone who has supported us throughout the year, helping us to prepare for and complete this event. I know both Claire and myself were quite nervous as The SteelMan approached but having Lincsquad around us has helped us to maintain the confidence to achieve this goal. If anyone is unsure that they can do it or not, we did it and we’re normal too!!! Speak to the coaches and allow them to give you the confidence to achieve your goals.