Drew Hobley’s Savage Christmas

Slate Man, even the name evokes feelings of this being one of those races you’ve really got to experience for yourself. Set in and around a disused slate mine in North Wales and organised by Always Aim High, renowned for their excellent events, this was going to be epic.

There are a number of options available when considering this race, something for everyone from a nice simple Duathlon for those who aren’t keen on getting wet, a Sprint distance triathlon for the more adventurous, their Classic triathlon if you fancy a good challenge, and now the Legend, to experience some Middle Distance punishment. Claire signed me up for the Savage as a Christmas gift (I’m beginning to think she likes to see me suffer 😉), this comprises the Sprint on Saturday then the Classic on Sunday, also known as a lovely weekend in Wales 😊
A number of others from in and around the club had also got signed up so we knew there’d be a good crowd about for the kids to cheer on too.

Accommodation was booked at Chez Dobber, Tudor Lodge being their B&B in Porthmadog, not a million miles away from Llanberis where the race is held, and an afternoon booked off work to aid the travelling. A plan for a Lincsquad weekend of fun and racing was beginning to evolve….

The number of people in and around the club that have a story when they hear the Slate Man name becomes infectious, the excitement beginning to build as the race got closer….

Work finished on the Friday and the car all packed, we set off for Wales…and after navigating the trials of the M62 on a Friday afternoon the hills rose into view and we finally arrived.
The warmest of welcomes was received from Clair and Steve Dolby and we dropped our bags to take part in the catch up session taking place in the garden as everyone arrived.

Speaking to Steve Cannings, our resident cycling wizard who isn’t shy about letting you know how proud he is about his Welsh bloodlines, I got a brief overview of the bike course. The advice I got went along these lines…. the sprint course starts off rolling out of Llanberis before heading up, then, just as it starts to go down again there’s a bend that looks like you’ll ride off the side of the mountain. Sit up and take in the view to allow a little speed to be scrubbed off, then chuck it around the bend. Slow for the turnaround and come back up, then hang on for the ride on the way down back to the roll into transition. I wasn’t looking forward much to the ups, and the thought of sheep and stonewalls on the downs didn’t really have me raise my confidence levels…..

As always, race day morning came around way too quickly, Clair and Steve were already up and on hand with a great spread and porridge for breakfast for us racers. We loaded the car and headed out to get racked up.

Always Aim High have a fantastic setup for this race, everything is well organised with plenty of space to get sorted in transition. Including space for a couple of food vans, coffee cart and a couple of vendor stalls too. If all races were this well organised triathlon would be so much easier to compete in…. almost no stress was felt after my usual deep exhalations on the way to the race!!!

Anyway, the race briefing came and went, wetsuits were zipped up and we mooched over to the lake…. On this overcast morning in the shadow of the Welsh hills we were told the water temperature would be 12.9 degrees….. the water looked very cold.

We were offered the opportunity for a brief acclimatisation paddle; it was very very cold!! In the weeks leading up to this race we’d made sure we already had some cold swims so were kind of ready for the sensations….. aching ankles, icy water in the small of your back as it seeps through the wetsuit zip, and the shock of splashing it onto face and neck before a quick full dip to really lower my skin temp!!! We were quickly taken back out and counted into the start area ready for the start.

All lined up in the water with Dave and Mark, ready for the race to start. Count down under way, GO.

We set off; I was trying to find an easy stroke rhythm, but the cold was really biting. The first buoy came up in no time, and while the swim group never seemed spread out too much there was always plenty of room. I’d been keeping fairly wide from the beginning to keep out of trouble and now I was trying to come back more in line and closer to the buoys. Second buoy passed and onto the last stretch, it’s only a 400m swim so you know you’ll be back on dry land in no time, so I started to think about transition.

Into the shallows and suddenly standing made me a bit wobbly, I reached for the zip on my wetsuit and began getting my arms out as I staggered up the shore. Jogging into transition and Malc Marshall skips past me, how I’d got out of the swim before him I don’t know, I clicked my watch into T1 as I crossed the timing mat, 8:41 including the run up the shore was a great result for me.

I got to my bike and, I know I know all you sprint purists never wear socks, pulled on my socks. It was cold enough in the water and a little bit of comfort was my concession here!! Slipped into shoes and race belt, pulled on my helmet and glasses and put some gloves on (ok I know, that’s two concessions to my comfort) unracked my bike and headed off for the magic line where I could get on.

The ride rolls gently up and out of Llanberis for a couple of miles before you hit the climb up to Penn Y Pas, around 3 miles to the visitor centre at the top. Keep on spinning and you’re soon there, around the bends take in the mountains, this won’t last forever….
Cresting the pass and relief as I started to descend, back into the big ring and pedalling, looking for Stephens edge of the mountain. It soon arrived and was spectacular. The mountainside rising to the left as the valley spreads out to the right and the road seemingly heading straight over the edge….. remembering Stephens advice, I sat up and let the air resistance marshal my speed… (well that and a little comfort graze of the brakes!!) A nice wide line, nip on to my saddle and chuck it around the bend…

As soon as you’re into it, the bend opens right up leading to fast flowing bends, pedalling hard once again down to the turn around point. Sit up, heave on the brakes and take a nice wide line round the turn point, shifting into my granny ring for the return climb…. I don’t remember much of this short climb the crest arriving quickly again, I must have been too busy looking forward to the forthcoming descent. And over we go, again pedalling hard to pick up speed, looking through the bends as far as possible and trying to keep off the brakes. The stone walls getting quite close at times focusses the mind all the way to the bottom and we’re back into Llanberis before you know it.

The dismount line is just off the main road, so didn’t leave much space for a quick smooth, dismount. I stopped, jumped off and began trotting in on my cleated cycle shoes. Shouts and cheers from our supporters in transition distracted me from my racking spot as I went past by a space or two, oh well, no big loss really. Rack the bike and kick off my shoes, I pulled on my visor and slipped into my trail shoes, made all the more tricky by still not being able to feel my feet properly.
The jog out of transition and onto the main run course was interesting, the lack of sensation in my toes at the start certainly hindered my exit. The sprint course leads towards and across the railway lines and up the hillside, this begins quite gradually before you enter the wooded area and steep switchbacks slowed my pace to a walk. I decided here that I’d walk any steep sections like this, preserving some energy for the flatter sections and downhills, again well signposted with white tape the course winds through the trees until a steep paved section is reached just before the halfway point, some lovely marshals man a water station and we begin what I hope is the descent back towards the end of the race. The steep downhills really hammer on tired legs and lead back into the woods, getting more and more technical as it goes. Then suddenly the track leads uphill again, at this point is was really not required, the steep ascent is covered in roots and tired legs are beginning to struggle. Another technical descent back to the museum path and down to the rail crossing leads us nicely through the last half mile or so to be greeted by the team of supporters again just before the finish line, pick up the pace and round the final bend to the finish arch. Crisps, water, choccy biscuits, banana, oranges and pots of haribos begin the refuelling process and finally close the sprint race off. A fantastic experience through some epic scenery….roll on tomorrow to do it all over again……