Back in January we were tucked up in front of a log burner in a cosy cottage in Portinscale, just outside Keswick. I was busy completing the registration form for the ‘Falcon’ middle distance triathlon, but there was something niggling away at me, namely the fact that the week after the ‘Falcon’ was to be the Keswick Mountain Festival. Rewind back to June last year and I’d competed in the standard distance triathlon at the Mountain Festival. The event ended up being a bit different from that which had been advertised, in terms of the distances and courses used, due to the atrocious weather the day before. Having only pitched up on the Sunday to do the event we realised that there had been a whole weekend of events and festivities from Friday through to Sunday, albeit some rather damper than others. That sparked the interest in coming back 12 months later to see what it was all about.
So, back to the cottage in Portinscale. The Keswick Mountain Festival was already being advertised with the sprint distance on the Saturday and the standard on the Sunday, and this is where the plan started to form. My concern was that if my legs were still unhappy with me from the previous weekend I might struggle to do an event which isn’t exactly known for being flat, apart from the swim of course. Add to that the stunning scenery, I could just imagine me stopping for 30 minutes to stare at the mountains. ‘Pam, how do you fancy biking round Derwent Water in June?’ OK, hands up, here’s the rationale. By entering the sprint distance as a relay team we could share the event between us and I would have a gap between efforts whilst Pam bombed around the lake on her bike. More importantly it meant that we would be doing our event on the Saturday morning rather than the Sunday morning, meaning we could familiarise ourselves with the Timothy Taylor sponsored beer tent on the Saturday evening without any concerns for trying to compete with a thick head on Sunday! And with that ‘Splash, Flash and Dash’ entered the Keswick Mountain Festival Sprint Triathlon as a relay team. A perfect plan.
Fast forward 10 weeks and we are sat in Scunthorpe A&E being told that Pam had broken the 5th metatarsal in her left foot. I can honestly say that the Keswick Mountain Festival wasn’t my first thought, possibly second or third thought, but all of a sudden the team was potentially missing a ‘Flash’. Oh crumbs! 6 weeks of nervous anticipation ensued before we got the news we needed to hear, Pam, aka the ‘Flash’, got the all clear to compete. We then had the small issue that we had less than 3 weeks to go until the big race and Pam’s bike was still hidden in next door’s garage to make sure she didn’t try riding it on the turbo whilst recuperating.
(Insert lots of boring training details here. We all have to do it, some days it hurts more than others, but if we’re being totally honest there’s nothing more boring that hearing about other people’s training.)
Fast forward to race weekend. Thankfully the ‘Falcon’ went well with no cramps on the run for the first time ever at that distance (although there were several precautionary stops for stretching on the last lap). We opted to book a guesthouse for the weekend, rather than go for the camping option offered by the event on the basis of needing a comfy bed before and after any type of event. By pure chance we managed to book the 3rd closest guesthouse to the festival village so we were able to roll out of bed less than 90 mins before the start, have a leisurely breakfast and still be there well in time for a 07:45 race briefing. What is even more notable is the fact that the guesthouse had facility to store loads of bikes in their basement. We’ve used other guesthouses before that advertise bike storage, but it’s invariably a shed in the garden with a combination lock on the door that probably hasn’t been changed for years. As the proprietors use the basement for some of the living accommodation we slept well knowing that the bikes were safely tucked up too. For anyone thinking of using Keswick as a base for cycling we would certainly recommend the West View Guesthouse (run by Heather and Craig) on The Head overlooking Hope Park. Just promise to leave us a room for next year’s festival.
Not for the first time, the event was impacted by the weather. Due to the long period of dry weather in Cumbria (yes you’ve read that correct) Derwent Water was a bit on the shallow side. As such we had to wade out beyond the start line and start at what would have been the first buoy. This meant that the last 50 metres of the swim was in about 2-3ft of water and was a mixture of swimmers and waders. For the record both swimmers and waders moved at the same speed, but the waders seemed to look more ungainly and ended up with much muddier feet. It was also a bit ‘weedy’ so we all emerged looking like something from a ‘B-movie’ with some sort of stringy vegetation hanging off of us. Now one thing I didn’t thing about before the event was the 400m run in to transition from the water’s edge. Normally I’ll do a steady jog, knowing that I’ve got to jump straight on the bike once I’ve wrestled out of my wetsuit. However this time I was handing my chip over to ‘Flash’ followed by a little sit down in the sunshine to recover. So I set off like it was the last 100m on the bank at Burringham on a Wednesday night duathlon. It was amazing, I was overtaking people whilst running, this never happens! After 100m I realised the error of my ways (as there was still another 300m to go), started making a few involuntary gasping noises and eventually neared transition sounding like Ivor the Engine. ‘Come on Splash’ was the cheer from ‘Flash’. Wetsuit off, timing chip transferred and Flash was off in a ……………………. well, a flash, obviously.
(Now I don’t know what happened for the next 40 minutes of the race, because I was snoozing in the morning sunshine, so here’s the Flash for her part of the race report ………………………..)
There is a moment in every race. A moment where you can quit, fold, or say to yourself, “I can do this” I grabbed my bike and flew off to the mount line where there was the usual cacophony of legs, wheels, bikes, riders trying to jump on their bikes and take off. I wound my way through the melee and mounted Guerciotti further up the hill. We chose my road bike due to the hilly bike leg ahead….Turning an easy gear, legs up to speed…passing cyclists already on the first gentle incline then deep breath and I was away on the road to Keswick. The road was eerily quiet; so quiet, you could hear a caterpillar sneaking across a moss bed in tennis shoes. There was hardly a breath of air, the sun already a fire sucking the oxygen out of the atmosphere. No traffic through the town, however the warning words of the comissaire echoed in my mind…..”no overtaking on the A66….” Heck, which is the A66?
Similar to a neutralised roll out in a road race, we single filed along to Portinscale. Hills. We love them. We hate them. They make us strong. They make us weak. Today I chose to embrace hills. Changing into a climbing gear I passed a few men up the first hill. The unmistakable sound of clicking gears and soon a group of lady cyclists came with me charging at the first hill. We swooped like birds in flight around the tight bends, attacking the steep climb, positions changing as we felt strong, adhering to the non-drafting rules. Clicking of gears on our bikes made us aware that things were about to get very real very soon. Similar to when the proverbial hits the fan, we were fast approaching the climb just below Cat bells. If a hill has its own name then that is probably a pretty tough hill. Camaraderie united us girls going up the hill; we encouraged each other each turn of the pedals. Suddenly the lass in front jumped off her bike, “it’s my gears! I have dodgy gears” We all asked if we could help, was there anything we could do? A display of sportsmanship that I am familiar with and have grown to love over the last few years of racing. The lass shouted that she would be fine, we should carry on. One less lass for the battle, gone but not forgotten. The temptation to get off and run with the bike almost overcame me as the gradient increased, however I hung on by the skin of my teeth. Experience has taught me that when I am hanging on by the skin of my teeth, I really need to keep my mouth closed, it is easier that way. Memes from the 80s were flooding my brain, the view from the top will be spectacular; it’s a hill get over it; however “quitters wear big knickers” is the quote I can thank for getting me to the top.
On the crest of the hill a quick glance at the Garmin told me that I was already 5 mins ahead of my estimated time. I “tapped” the Garmin to make sure it was still working and hit the road with passion. It’s easier to go down a hill than up it, but the view is much better from the top. Well it would have been, had the male cyclist in front not signalled a hazard, his right arm frantically pointing ahead. What could it be? Was it a rider down? A pothole? A sheep? Nessie on her holidays? No it was the photographer. I hope that cyclist gets the photo that he wanted. “On your right”, my voice came out calmer than I felt as I sped past him.
The roads to Grange and back to Keswick were undulating, with fast down hills, while the uphills were pretty draining on the legs. The final climb saw a marshal yell at me that this was it, this was the final climb, I was almost there…..Another glance at the Garmin, I was still 5 mins ahead of my estimated time. I nailed it round that corner, a happy thanks to the marshals as I turned left at the final roundabout and was ecstatic to get off on the dismount line. A final run up to transition, the spectators shouting and forcing me to get up there (in an encouraging way)….And that was that, bike racked, helmet off, quick check of the eyeliner and Jon was away….running!!
On reflection, the miracle isn’t that I finished this race; the miracle is that I had the courage to start. My thoughts before the race were pretty simple. I told myself that I just had to stay relaxed, channel my energy and focus. I loved being in a race within the race, getting down and dirty on the climbs with the other competitors. It was raw, animalistic. There was no one to rely on but myself. There is no better feeling than that. My final thought as Jon took the timing chip was that one day I won’t be able to do this, however today was not going to be that day.
Hang on Pam, not so fast, let’s go back a little bit. Having arrived on Friday afternoon we had the opportunity to ride the bike course. Now although we didn’t ride it at race pace, we didn’t hang around either, after all there was a coffee and a piece of cake with my name on it back at the lakeside café. So standing in transition I had a rough idea of how long I would have to soak up the beautiful sunshine and try to put out of my mind the undulating 5km rum that was waiting for me. With about 5 minutes to go I was just thinking of doing a couple of stretches when ‘Pam the Flash’ appeared at the other end of transition. Oh crumbs, time to look sharp and turn in to my alter ego ………’Dash’. A quick touch of my toes, the hand-over of the chip and I was away running.
In the last 6 years I’ve done an embarrassingly meagre 3 stand-alone running races. As such I had no idea of how to pace my run, so I opted for the tactic of going as hard as I dared for as long as I could stand and then try to hang on when it really started to hurt (straight out of the non-existent ‘Dash’ coaching manual). What happened next was truly amazing, I was overtaking folks on the run leg of a triathlon. Now I know that most of these folks were competing as individuals and hadn’t had the benefit of a snooze in the sunshine in transition, but it felt amazing to see a runner in front, catch them and then overtake them. Normally the run is my nemeses where I’m trying desperately to keep other competitors at bay, but not this time. It’s nice to see the world from someone else’s perspective, if only for one day.
Whilst I was in transition I’d spotted a couple of other runners from relay teams head out. They were easy to spot as they were wearing running gear, i.e. t-shirt and shorts, rather than tri-suits. I, however, was undercover, wearing my brand new Lincsquad tri-suit, so they wouldn’t know that they were competing with me, should I catch them and have a tussle with them. Because I hadn’t been concentrating (did I mention how nice the sunshine was whilst I was in transition) I didn’t keep a check on how many relay teams had arrived back from the bike leg and headed out on the run course, so I had no idea of our position. What I did know was that Pam had flown on the bike, so it was time to put a shift in and see if I could catch any of them, after all I was the ‘Dash’. Over the first 4km I spotted both of the relay team runners that I had happened to see leave transition and managed to (slowly) reel them in and pass them. Lungs aching, legs wobbling and eyes stinging with sweat I could see the festival village and hear the lady on the loud speaker cheering the runner home. Right, time to empty the tank for the last 200 metres, just like the bank at Burringham on a Wednesday night duathlon. 200 metres later I looked up to see that there was still another 200 meters left. I’d done it again, but this time it was up hill running through long grass. Thankfully by this point I could hear Pam (and a few others that she had coerced) cheering me on, the end was in sight. Apparently I spent the last 100 metres giving High-5’s to anyone willing enough to hold out their hands, but I don’t recall that due to exhaustion / fatigue. Over the line, hug Pam, grab a drink, grab another drink, take off the timing chip, shake hands with a few folks, get the t-shirts and then eventually remember to stop my stop watch (oh well, that’s why we have timing chips!). We didn’t know it at the time, because there wasn’t a results print out tent, but we’d made it back as the first relay team by 1 minute and 10 seconds! Whoopppeeee! The broken foot, the 6 week lay-off, the burning lungs and the mud that was still inside my tri-suit were all distant memories as we prepared to celebrate with the evening’s festivities and a much anticipated date with Timothy Taylor!
Everyone has got their favourite events and judging by the popularity of the event the Keswick Mountain Festival team don’t need me to do their promotional work for them. However with a whole range of walking, running, kayaking and triathlon events for all abilities across the whole weekend with a bunch of music acts from the 90’s thrown in for good measure, it comes highly recommended from the pair of us. All that against a stunning backdrop of Derwent Water and the fells of the Northern Lake District. The only note of caution is that the marshalling isn’t overly strict in terms of penalising folks for drafting on the bike, removing helmets early or removing wetsuits before handing over relay chips. If that’s likely to wind you up then the event is probably not for you, for all other folks it’s definitely one to consider, especially if the sun is shining all weekend long!