I’ve Always fancied a go at Bala and being unable to do the VIT the week before I Pennines and into North Wales. My Sat Nav would only pick up the nearest town to Bala in England so I decided to wing the last 20 miles which was a bad mistake as my own instinctive direction was to take me on a route that doubled the distance.
Arriving At Bala I quickly found the leisure centre and registered. The goody bag contained a cool towel and an even cooler sticker sheet which contained every sticker for me, my bike helmet etc for the race. I had only brought a book with me so the sticker sheet was going to be something to look forward to in the van tonight.
A quick coffee later and some directions to the campsite I set off, but again in the wrong direction and rolled up to the campsite half an hour later (campsite was actually 3 miles from the leisure centre). Backing into my hard standing spot I had been told to park in I decided a cup of tea was the order of the day to calm proceedings down a little, but within 3 minutes was having a England/Wales confrontation with my neighbour who told me I had parked in his friends place, By now having been driving for nearly 4 hours my usual mild manner had disappeared and in its place now stood a 5’10” Paul Carvill clone. I will not go into detail as we probably haven’t reached the watershed when you are reading this but all I would say is that he never gave me eye contact from then on. Adrenalin pumping I ate my tuna pasta in record time then settled down with my book and sticker sheet, “Happy Days”!, then an early night.
All night the wind caught the side of the van swaying it from side to side, rocking it about like some small fishing boat in the North Sea with rain “lashing” down like ball bearings on the roof, glad I’m not in a tent tonight!
Up early and breakfast had, I headed back down into Bala and parked up at the leisure centre early.
The wind was blowing straight down the lake and was producing some interesting conditions to say the least. Transition was set up quickly, then back to the van for a brew before heading back to transition for the race briefing.
I knew we were in for some testing racing as the wind now “whipped” up to 35-40mph. Standing there, wetsuit on, watching the first wave of swimmers set off, my confidence was knocked a little when over the tannoy we were told that conditions the day before were pretty grim for the 2 scheduled charity swims but today’s conditions were “hazardous” in comparison.
I was in the third wave which meant I had a good look at wave 1 & 2. The first thing that struck me was how busy the safety kayaks and safety boats were. People were getting pulled out left, right and centre and we were only 15 mins in. Telling myself that the distance was only half of what I glad swum in the Ancholme 4 days earlier I was herded through a ‘transition gate to be counted into the water. I asked the question why were they counting us in and the ominous reply was to make sure the same number came out!!!!!
Setting of on the swim reminded me of the film castaway, except I didn’t have a raft and a friend called Wilson. I had swum maybe 50 yards and already had I panic attack after being hit square in the face, 1 straight after the other, by the 3′ swells that were pounding straight into the swimmers. Doubts of whether I could actually cope with these conditions were starting to appear in my mind and I hadn’t even reached the first buoy!!!
The swim was basically an out and back course, the first section being straight into head wind. I could see rescue kayaks flashing past just in front of me with swimmers grasping for safety, coughing and spluttering with arms aloft. I had now got into some sort of rhythm, trying to ride the swells and now only swallowing water every 10 breadths or so. Eventually I reached the furthest buoy, cut across the lake 50 Mts and then started to head back. One of the worst things was trying to sight where you were actually swimming because every time you sighted it seemed all you saw was a wall of water before it hit you in the face. Now I was swimming with the waves, now surely this would be easier. I had the idea of spreading my legs out to catch the current, (I’ve watched Hawaii Five O) but this didn’t really work as I had thought as it ended up upending mw somehow. Imagine a cat thinking a washing machine is a cool place to sleep just before a 40o wash, then waking up tumbling over and over, well this was me. So reverting back to my usual crap style I managed to survive the swim back to shore. Entering T1 I glanced at my Garmin, 40 mins it had taken me and normally I would have been totally PxxxxD off with seeing that but I skipped across to my bike like Fred Astair, thankful that I had survived the hardest Tri leg that I had ever encountered.
The Bike and run section paled into insignificance after the swim, but again both legs went out into the wind first returning with a back wind. The Bike had around 300Mts of climbing in total and with a head wind and now rain was a bit like pulling teeth but the second part really made up for this. Back wind and downhill made for a really quick second leg, with speeds well over 40mph.
The run leg was undulating but after the swim and bike legs was pretty flattish, again with a back wind made for a quick second 5km.
My overall splits were:-
The winning time was 1:53:44 by Mark Threlfall of Total Fitness, Bath. The winner of both the male and female category picked up a whopping cheque for £ 600.00
With over 30 people being pulled out from the swim and even though my swim time was disappointing, I came away from the event pretty chuffed that I had completed it.