And so it dawned. The day of our first ever quadrathlon, the first real test of all our training so far. Were we fit enough? Would we survive? Our reckoning had come. Team Tobermory was a man down, with Alex enslaved by exams, but we were joined by Flora and Bella (of Daffodil-Bath-Half fame) and Macca (real name Tom) aka “Team Edinburgh”. Because YOLO.
It turns out that by entering the Brigg Bomber Quadrathlon, we’d accidentally enrolled ourselves in the British Quadrathlon Championships. Cue some very serious competitors. Everyone else was wearing either a GB top or a face of professional grit and determination, and there was even a former Iron Man amongst the ranks. Our motley crew of amateurs caused much amusement amongst the organisers, especially as we were the only ones without our own kayaks and had to borrow the club’s spares (something they’d never encountered before), but more about that particular torment later.
Having already survived our 6am wake-up, burnt toast and a smoke alarm, we arrived at Brigg Leisure Centre and set up in the transition zone. For those of you who don’t know, this is a central area where you store your bike, paddle, food, and any other gear that you need for the different sections. Speed is key, so it pays to be organised. After shots of coffee, a safety briefing, and some pre-swim stretches, we were ready to face our first quadrathlon.
The Swim (1.5 km)
This was my first ever time swimming in open water, a baptism of fire, watery fire. We waded out from the chilly murky bank, opened the necks of our wetsuits and dunked ourselves under – the best way to acclimatise apparently. It was not pleasant. I shrieked as the water oozed it’s way down my wetsuit, like the ice bucket challenge in slow motion. Nothing for it but some frantic breaststroke to warm up, which to my surprise didn’t actually take too long. Wetsuits are amazing things. By the end of the swim I was practically hot!
As open water goes this course was really lovely. We were in a calm canal, so not too much scope for going wildly off course (although Matthew tried his best), and only water lilies to contend with. This section was a real highlight for Team Edinburgh with Macca finishing 8th, and Bella and Flora 2nd and 3rd females respectively. Team Tobermory languished somewhat further behind – I forgot all of my technique until the second half and was amazed at how hard I found it to breathe! It’s easy to see why people often panic, the cold water makes everything constrict and you feel breathless so much more easily. But Anna, now a seasoned Beaver, kept me reassured and together we finished the swim in only half an hour, much better than I was expecting!
The Kayak (7km)
After clumsily shedding our wetsuits (and who knew putting socks on wet feet could be so hard) we quickly learnt that the most important thing you need for kayaking is a rudder. Our borrowed vessels were not equipped thus and seemed intent on zig-zagging their way down the canal. Mine in particular was designed for slalom courses apparently and wanted to spin with every stroke. It was literally three strokes forward then one stroke back to straighten up and impossible to get any real speed. Watching everyone else overtake me in their sleek fibreglass vessels, until I was genuinely the last person in the race, was incredibly demoralising. And that was only the first kilometre, there were 6 more to go. Then it rained.
This kayak was unanimously the low point for all of us, almost more of a mental challenge than a physical one (although my hip-flexors would beg to differ). We were cold and wet, Anna paddled half the course with her paddle the wrong way up, Macca counted 40 people overtaking him (having started 8th!), and Flora and Bella were doing so badly that even I managed to catch up with them. It’s a testament to the power of team spirit how much having the others at my side helped. As the marshals shouted encouragement and advice we sang it’s raining men and paddled on, until finally finally we made it back, and climbed, stiff-legged and sore, from our kayaks, a good half hour after everyone else. On to the next one!
The Cycle (36km)
Munching a banana and gulping lucozade it was helmets on and bikes at the ready. Whilst Bella and Flora made a break for the loo (to the amazement of the organisers – it wasted a precious 5 minutes!) I set off into deepest darkest Lincolnshire. It was a lovely cycle route through several pretty villages and along golden fields of rapeseed. Not that I really appreciated it. My thoughts were all; “keep going”, “keep up the speed”, “keep pushing those peddles – flowers schmowers”.
But 5 minutes in and my hamstring flared up in a protest of pain. No no no, what was this? What had I done to it? Hang in there hamstring, I kept telling it, come on body, don’t let me down! Endurance challenges like this take you to a weird place mentally, or at least they do for me. I thought about stopping and preserving myself, but in my head that just wasn’t an option. It wasn’t like the worst pain ever, and how would I get back to Brigg anyway? As Flora and Bella caught up I forced myself to match their pace and carried on.
The Run (10km)
Back at the transition it was clear that carrying on any further was a really bad idea. I was bitterly disappointed and as Flora and Bella disappeared into the forest I just couldn’t stop crying. The frustrating thing was I knew I could do it from a fitness point of view, I knew I could run the 10k. I suppose there was also an element of why me, what had I done that the others hadn’t, why wasn’t I strong enough to complete it? I guess I just don’t do well with failure (no surprises there).
Whilst I have no personal experience of the run I have it on good authority that your legs take a while to switch over from their cycle state to a running state, and you feel like a weird heavy zombie to start with. Bella also felt sick most of the way round. That’s another challenge of the quadrathlon; managing your energy levels, and eating and drinking enough. In general though everyone pulled out great times and smashed it over the finish line still smiling.
The Take Home
To everyone’s great surprise Flora and Bella are now the joint British Quadrathlon Champions for Under 23 Females! They also came officially last, so much so that the prize-giving ceremony had to be delayed. But hey, still Champions. Anna also gained a prize, officially as ‘Best New Female’, but her trophy says ‘Best Over 70’. Clearly all that training has been taking its toll. The boys also did really well with Macca just missing out on 3rd place in his category, and, to Macca’s Dad’s utter delight, beating Matthew! Just.
Overall our first quadrathlon was a fantastic experience. The marshals, supporters and other competitors were incredibly friendly and encouraging, “spurring us along every step of the way” (Macca, 2015). Matthew also enjoyed having his name read out over the microphone at every transition because “it made me feel very important for 10 seconds”. If only he’d entered as the King in the North.
Despite my injury there’s still a lot that I’ve taken away from the day. I know that I can swim the distance and I’m much less worried about how cold it might be. It was also great to realise that we weren’t dead after 4 hours of exercise. Of course the Kindrochit Quad will be 3 times as long but we’ve come such a long way with our training already. More than anything I’ve realised how much I want to complete it, how determined I am to finish it whatever happens. As we head into June and our final month of training that extra motivation is invaluable. I really hope my injury isn’t serious and I can still train to my full potential, but come hill or high water, somehow I will do it and I’m determined to finish!
Over and out,