Old Man of Coniston Triathlon – Neil Barker race report

Race report Old Man of Coniston Triathlon

2K swim
70 k bike
13.1 run

Having enjoyed Helvellyn last year I decided to enter the Old Man of Coniston Tri. It is not just for the old men but you certainly feel like one the next day. My legs feel about 110 years old now. I arrive in Coniston on the Saturday afternoon in time to meet Luke Osborn who had just finished the Coniston Standard Distance Tri, and had come third out of a field of 120. Well done Luke.

After pitching my tent I decided to drive the bike course, which was a mistake. The Wrynose and Hardknot Passes seemed really scary in a car; you feel like you are in a metal box that could easily slip off the hill into a ravine with the smallest of mechanical failures. I was glad when Sunday morning arrived and I could get on with it and stop thinking it through, although getting up at 4.00 am for a 9.00 am start is a little excessive.

A field of about 50 started. The swim was cold, very cold, but I only really realised it at transition when my hands had become useless frozen claws. I am sure the swim was short as I cannot swim 2k in 31 minutes. I suspect they had not moved the buoys from the standard distance the day before and so it was closer to 1500 m. There was a 600 meter uphill run to T1. I was slow in transition as I had to change the dressing on my finger with a snapped tendon. This was truly changing given the cold hands, but I needed to bend that finger to brake on the bike. The next mistake was not to put my cycling gloves on – what do we need these things for any?

Out onto the bike and within 20 mins I was at the beginning of the Wrynose pass with 33% gradients. I started as I meant to go on by dropping my chain right at the bottom. Well you can’t really climb a decent hill without being cover in chain oil can you?

As I got going up the hill I realise that the pass seem much less scary and more manageable on a bike than in a car. How strange! After about 15 mins out of the saddle I was within 20 meters of the top and I though brilliant I am going to do it. But then a car diver started to back down the narrow road with his reversing lights on and another was revving with a burning clutch just behind me. This was enough to put me off in my weakened state and I had to step down. Disappointed, I pressed on.

The descents were hairy but manageable if a little hard on the hands with all the breaking. Next came the Hardknott Pass even steeper in places than the Wrynose but not as long. The bottom was especially steep and wet with a stream running over it. I foolishly turned diagonally across the road to try to reduce the gradient and the wheels slipped from under me. Nothing broken, I pressed on up the climb. I was out of the saddle for 10 mins maybe, then I was over. Again a sharp descent and down in Eskdale. We turned south and headed for the next climb, Birker Fell, not so extreme but by now the body was tiring. I now know what those cycling gloves are for. By the time I had got to the top of Birker Fell both hands had large blisters on the heels.

Getting back to Coniston it was time for the run, through and out of the village and up the miners’ path towards Weatherlam. The climb was not a run, in fact it was hard to walk quickly up the steepening hill. My breath was coming in gasps. The ascent went on seemingly forever. Then there was a chance to run, if you dare, over the broken rocks and gravel down to the bottom of Swirl How. Then it was time to walk and scramble up to the top. By now Coniston Old Man was in view and I was passing a few other competitors. I was beginning to feel stronger and my pace was quickening; we were about 6 hours into the race. Over the top of Swirl How and there was a chance to run over the tops of Brim Fell and then Old Man itself in good time.

With only the descent left to go, I thought now is the time to really put some pace into the run, but the descent down into the quarries below was treacherous. It was very steep and full of loose broken rock. It is more like jumping down the stairs than running. Hard on the knees and a moment’s loss of concentration meant a hospital job.
I passed two more competitors and eventually got to more reasonable gradients. I started to stretch out the legs. Then disaster. Almost. I was reaching for a bottle of water from my belt without slowing the pace and turned an ankle in a hole. I got up fearing the worst, but it was not too bad, better, I could still run. Soon we were back into the village and heading to the finish. On the last road before the fields I cramped up – inside of the right thigh, exactly where I cramped at Helvellyn. There must be something about picking up the pace on the flat, after a very steep descent. I looked round and saw a bloke I had passed coming off Coniston. I could barely walk. I massaged, stretched and waited a couple of minutes, and then it eased a bit.

I started to get back into a slow shuffling jog, it eased some more. Before long I was running again with the fellow competitor not far behind me. I was just hoping to keep going long enough to stop him overtaking me. Then the uphill finish came into sight with the legs threatening to cramp again, but the challenge behind me had evaporated. 7 hours 15 mins was my time; the winner did it in just over 5 hours.

Would I do it again? Yes, it was awesome. Harder than Helvellyn but I would not fancy it in the wet. The ankle? When I got up this morning I thought my Double Steelman was over, but now it does not feel too bad.