Coniston – Grizedale Mountainbike Triathlon – biting off more than I could chew

An interesting day today for me – what I entered into as a bit of a challenge turned out to be a true test for me – physically (to an extent) – but largely psychologically.

In early May, Katie and I were looking at the Westmorland Gazette and I was feeling down in the dumps about being laid up with a broken collarbone. When Katie spotted the Coniston-Grizedale Mountainbike Triathlon was open for entries, she suggested I give it a go. It was a good idea – I’ve done three sprint triathlons before and despite being a slow and cumbersome swimmer, I’ve always done well. The notion of a full on mountainbike, lake swim, fell run off-road triathlon in the Lake District just seemed a great challenge. And what a formidable challenge it was.

I had to borrow a wetsuit from local friend Mark Solomom and was ready – sort of – for my first proper open water swim – a mile on Lake Coniston. When we dipped into the water I was nervous – for sure – but didn’t quite realise how the choppy wind-whipped water was going to sap my morale.

The starting horn went – the splashing started in my face, and we were off. Sort of. I had my heart in my mouth and it wasn’t going away – this was a long way to swim for someone who openly admits a preference for not swimming! The choppy surface waves were just dreadful. I had so many mouthfuls of Lakeland water I could have been bottled and sold. Watching all the good swimmers romp off was expected – fearing for my own mortality wasn’t. It was hard and seemingly endless.

35 minutes later, a drowned-rattted my way up the pebbly shore and into the transition one very relieved man. I think I was about fourth from last on the swim – out of something like 100 people – and had some catching up to do on the people that finished quarter of an hour before me! Bike time.

The 25km Mountainbike route was basically a ride out-and back to and a lap of the North Face loop in Grizedale forest. With a good mix of singletrack and fire tracks to test the brain as well as the legs, I’d opted for a fully rigid setup on my bike and was glad of it. I also felt like I gathered my composure after the public ducking I’d just endured, and naturally got my pecker up as I started to pick off the riders one by one. I made no errors, kept my 29″ wheels on the good lines for the hour and a bit’s ride, and started the descent back into Coniston in a good position – maybe in 14th or 15th place.

The transition went well and I didn’t suffer too many odd feelings going from bike to running. My trick is to quicken but shorted my steps for a bit – it seemed to work. It was a hard but runnable slog up about 1,000 feet of ascent along the foothills of Coniston Old Man. Just when I thought I was out of the woods and over half way through the run, disaster struck – I caught my show somehow and simply tripped up – landing like a sack of heavy spuds on loads of rocks… and straight down on my ‘bad’ side – almost directly onto my shoulder of my bad collarbone. That held up okay, but I was cut and bruised all over my ribs, shoulder, arm and upper back, and I’d had the wind knocked out of me a second time in the day – this time physically.

When I gathered myself and got back on my way, someone had caught me, and I ran with him for a bit – but after five minutes noticed that I was able to make the most of my Walshes on the pretty rough descent back into Coniston – he’d opted for normal trainers. So all in all I managed to hold the same position in the run that I’d started with.

I don’t know right now what position I was in – and didn’t want to wait around for results. I was battered and bruised and wanted to get home.

On reflection, I think I bit off a bit more than I could chew. A sprint Triathlon involves a pool swim and possibly 7 or 8 mins for me in a (the safety of) pool – and a time defecit of maybe three minutes on the best swimmer. I can easily make this up on 40 mins or so on a bike. But to emerge from the Lake c. 15 minutes in arrears and make this up on some other pretty committed athletes is a big ask… I won’t be doing this again unless I can find lots of time to learn to swim faster. That said, a valuable learning experience and – after the bruises and cuts have faded – I think I’ll be fitter for it.