“Shall I enter Slateman?”
“You’ve wanted to do it for years, why not?”
“It’s the week before the Bomber again and I want to do that too, I’ll be knackered for the Bomber if I do, ah stuff it you’re right I’ll enter.”
It’s amazing isn’t it how such an innocent conversation can end up causing so much agony!
So there we were a few months later car fully loaded, both Shona and I with the afternoon off work for a nice easy drive over to Caernarfon beating the horrendous Friday night M62 traffic that we know so well from taking Torin over to race the Velodrome track league. Straight past Leeds no problems, then it started bump near Ikea, shunt on the M60, overturned vehicle on the M56; and so a nice 4 hour journey became a 5 ½ hour slog.
Never mind great camp site – thanks Hughie and Stenno, get the tent up in the not too bad rain and off for something to eat. Down town Caernarfon on a Friday night dressed in scruffy camping clothes meant we felt that we’d not be that welcome in a pub, so a chippy tea – not ideal nutrition but it was nice!
Saturday morning no pressure start late breakfast and then off to watch the sprint version, Gareth Barker and Richard Ogden were the two Lincsquad nutters doing both the sprint and the full distance aka the Slateman Savage, Chris Jackson was sensible doing the sprint on its own.
Now Llanberis was a second home for me in the rock climbing and mountaineering days of my youth, but I’ve never been there for Slateman – what a brilliant event and atmosphere, the wind was tough but the sun came out and it was brilliant just to be there watching. Good racing by all the Lincsquaders and also some friends from Cardiff Tri who were doing the sprint or savage versions. We watched the youth fun run – although they weren’t treating it as fun some serious racing going on there, and then off to Beddgelert for a trip down memory lane some of the best ice cream in the world.
We decided to cook and eat at the tent that night because I know what doesn’t upset me when I’m racing and like to make sure that’s what I eat – nothing fancy at all just chicken and rice but it works for me. This turned out to be a good choice as a load of other folks ended up with takeaway pizza because everywhere in Caernarfon was full.
Up just before 7.00 on Sunday morning for porridge but I felt really odd, for some reason I was really nervous. I don’t get nervous about this stuff I genuinely do it for fun, I’m old enough that I don’t have to prove to anyone that I’m any good, back in the day I was competitive and worried about that stuff, but not for years. Still I was really jittery and kept having to have a word with myself, I wasn’t the only one though, the frequent trips to the loo block meant bumping into the same other nervous faces! Off to Llanberis to get parked and racked for the race, Shona quite rightly pointed out that me being nervous was a good coaching experience and might help me understand what other people feel like. Maybe it was a chance to try and find different ways of dealing with it, I went for the mtfu option and told myself to switch the nerves off, this worked brilliantly……………for a full 2 minutes!
Bike racked transition set up, nerves abating now I’m there with something to do and good to go, swim cut short because it was too cold for the full distance, meant I was sort of pleased and kind of disappointed.
Anyway off to the start usual battle with wetsuit done, double hatted against the cold water and watching the other waves go off ahead of us. Richard Anness and me having a natter before it was our wave and then into the lake. Chuffing ‘eck it was proper chilly, never mind after 2 minutes my hands and feet didn’t hurt anymore because I couldn’t feel them. Countdown and off we go, let the fast boys out of the way and find my own bit of space and rhythm. I made myself remember the advice I’d been given in Mallorca on the tri camp by Paul Clark the swim coach, keep your head down as if you’re trying to hold a tennis ball under your chin, stay smooth rotate etc etc, well I did some of it and started catching some people! Blimey I’ve got to the first buoy and there are people in my way, ok straight through them then. I remember thinking that Hinchy would be impressed that I was in a “washing machine” and then realised it was more of a tumble dryer on the gentle cycle! Over take a couple more people and then out of the swim, another tip from Paul – start unzipping your suit while you’re getting out so the water in it helps you pull it off. Help a few folks who are struggling to undo theirs as I trot past to T1 and then the last bit of Paul’s advice comes good again, spray some 1 Cal oil on your calves before you put your suit on and it is so much easier to get off in T1. Who’d have though that an ex GB swimmer would know anything about swimming, great advice – try it.
T1 was slow as usual but I knew I needed to get a jacket on because it was cold and the wind meant I’d really suffer in just my tri suit, I always struggle with the cold so the extra time here means I’ll be able to get round rather than sitting in a car having to pull out with hyperthermia.
Out on the bike – time to enjoy myself, the climb up to Pen-Y-Pass is one I know well, just sit and spin a nice easy gear and you’ll be fine. I went past a few folks who were grinding the biggest gear in the world and must have been killing their legs, hard climb but ok I knew that this was the toughest bit anyway. Down off the top was quick but more road bike territory that TT bike so I was sensible and didn’t risk anything, left at the bottom and time to fly to Capel Curig, absolutely brilliant. Down on the skis and really whistling along, overtaking a whole bunch of people and feeling really good. Then left onto the A5 up the Ogwen valley, our drive the day before reminded me that it’s quite a ramp at that turn so I was in the right gear and up and over nice and easy, right slam bang into the most brutal headwind from Valhalla! Man it was tough, the whole of the Ogwen valley section was torture, it’s actually my favourite road in Snowdonia, past Tryfan on the left which is the mountain I love above any other I’ve climbed, but it was hell. At one point I was full out cycling downhill at absolutely 100% effort, look down at the Garmin = 13.2 mph this is crazy! Later on Sallie Joseph said she’d had to get out of the saddle to ride this downhill section, totally bonkers. Once past Ogwen cottage the wind was from the side and you could get some speed up again, but it was so gusty that I wasn’t risking getting on the skis, so it was an unorthodox crouch over the horns style for me. Still making good speed and overtaking a few others, at least on the downhill sections no-one went past me! The rest of the bike was pretty uneventful just hard every time you hit the wind and I was pretty cooked by then from riding up the valley so not especially quick.
T2 not too bad except that my race belt broke so I ran out of transition trying to tie it back on, why didn’t I use the new free one they’d given me yesterday? Plus I forgot my water bottle so no drink – Idiot!
So onto the run.
Everyone tells you it’s tough, they’re lying – it’s not tough at all. It’s brutal, the only reason the whole race is still allowed to go ahead is because Amnesty International don’t know about the bl**dy run. If they’d known about it when they drew up the Geneva convention in 1949 then this race would never have started. It’s a run designed by the criminally insane, they were going to include it in Silence Of the Lambs as a torture scene, you know Sir Anthony Hopkins being Welsh it seemed appropriate, but the American sensors said it was too horrible to show in the USA so scrapped it. Yep it’s more blood thirsty and tortuous than the Texas Chainsaw Massacre or even Simon Cowell and the chuffing X Factor and that’s official. Still I enjoyed it really, if it was easy it’s be football and all that, and I wasn’t racing anyone else just doing it for me, it really is way beyond tough and I must have walked a couple of the 11 km because it was so steep I just couldn’t do anything else, but it really is fantastic in the most daft of ways. Once you’re up at the top of Dinorwig you can look out over the Llanberis valley and the lake and it’s just brilliant, apart from the fact someone has set fire to your legs and has now taken a cheese grater to your calves, that is. The downhill bits hurt as much as the uphill except now it was my quads that were being hit with a steak tenderiser! Finally turn right onto the finishing straight, I’d already decided there’d be no sprint finish this time I was just too tired. However the Lincsquad crew were out in full force, there’s a huge advantage being the last Lincsquader home, they’ve all finished and are there to cheer you in, so of course I had to sprint as best I could! Over the line totally spent and then a vicious dose of cramp in my left hamstring to stretch out for 5 minutes before I could move away from the fence I’d propped myself on. Time 4hrs 3 minutes 43s, what is it with me and not being able to finish an event in under 4 hours?
Will I be back – definitely, it’s a truly brilliant race and all I can say is don’t think about doing it – just get entered and do it!