The Slateman is a well-regarded triathlon held in North Wales in the shadow of Snowdon. I felt my Ironman training had become a bit sub-standard over the last few weeks, so I was keen to use this race as a test to see how I was progressing. This is how the event panned out…
First up, the 1000 metre open water swim in Llanberis: the water was frigid at 12 degress Celsius. My feet went a little numb and my face hurt as I submerged it in the water. After several minutes I forgot the cold and focused on swimming. I’d been reading and practicing some techniques from a Total Immersion swim book and at first I was happy with my stroke and progress.
As I started sighting (the practice of sticking your neck out of the water during an open water swim to check whether you are still on course), I noticed the first marker buoy was still far away. It was only a few hundred metres away from shore – why wasn’t I getting there faster?! This led to me having a bit of a panic – my breathing rate increased and I was forced to breathe every two stroke with a desperate gasp. Once my breathing went out of kilter I resorted to old and inefficient swimming techniques to get me going. It was only on the homeward stretch back to shore that my breathing returned to normal and I started to feel myself gliding more gracefully, albeit zigzagging back to shore.
It was only much later, after the race and before prize-giving, when I overheard a fairly intimidating looking triathlete with a powerful upper body tell his friends that he had a complete meltdown in the water and had to call a kayak marshal over and rest on the edge of the kayak before recomposing himself. I guess all sorts of people can have a bad swim.
The first transition was smooth enough – a short grassy run into transition, a brief fumble with the wetsuit, lightweight jacket, helmet, sunnies, tri belt and shoes on and off I went to the mount line. The ride was spectacularly scenic; fortunately for me I’d done a recce ride a couple of months ago so knew what to expect so I would not be daunted by the profile. The ride quickly goes up and over Pen-y-pass and I overtook many, whilst in turn being overtaken by more proficient riders, mainly on other time trial bikes. It was on the descent down the far side of Pen-y-pass and along the A4086 towards Capel Curig that I started making some serious progress, cruising at 35 to 40+ mph for large sections and overtaking some more of the faster swimmers from my wave.
The psychological advance of knowing every rise, twist and turn in a route is fantastic. Others may not have known how long an uneven road surface would last or when the best place would be to overtake a car (plenty of Sunday drivers who were intimidated by being caught in the middle of a race), but I knew the answers to these questions. My legs felt strong and it was only my neck muscles that hurt from straining to look up from my aero position. As the cowbells were rung by spectators most fervently on the final few hundred metres, I sprinted in on the bike, overtaking a final few cyclists, before re-entering transition, ditching my jacket, changing into trail shoes and setting off.
The run course was beautiful. I swept round a quarry lake a first and I was overtaken by many runners, but I had an ace up my sleeve- I figured I was better at hill-climbing than most. As the course became steeper it rose up through five switchbacks and as others slowed down and some walked, I persevered for the best part, forcing myself upwards at a slow but steady pace, gaining my position back from many who had overtaken me. Near the top my legs were feeling strong and I bounded along on the flat sections, with a big cheesy smile for the television cameras (due to be televised on July 7th!) The run finished predominantly downhill with a well-attended final few hundred metres.
As I reached the last couple of hundred metres my focus was squarely on the finish line. The crowds and loudspeakers all blurred as I reached my singular goal of passing under the banner, content.
Thanks to the race organisers, marshals, volunteers, the friendly competitors, supportive locals, and supporters who lined the bike and run route and clanged cowbells and shouted encouragement. All of you made the morning great!