A Sunday In Hell
5 September 2018 - By James Montgomery
Taking part in one of the toughest triathlons in the World is not for the faint hearted and some might think us a bit strange for wanting to put ourselves through so much pain. But the Helvellyn triathlon seemed a good idea last year when I hit the enter button and better, I even managed to convince Tony Wallen to take part with me also. However, survival was going to be the order of the day and as I write this, I am experiencing the worst case of the DOMS imagineable.
So it was that on Sunday 2nd September we found ouselves alongside Ullswater in the Lake District, with our respective wives, Theresa and Brigid in support and carrying the bags. Amazingly it was dead calm. But by the time race briefing was over a wind had whipped up and had turned the lake decidedly choppy. The water was 15 degC, which at the beginning of the season would seem quite warm, but having swum in temperatures in the upper 20’s for most of the summer, it felt bloody chilly! Tony and I were both in the same green-cap wave, off on the 1 mile swim at a respectable 8:35am. I had the swim from hell, I struggled to warm-up and get going, my goggles leaked and then there was avoiding the zig-zaggers, and the Orange cap swimmers, who were supposed to be the slower swimmers behind us who started overtaking us or rather swimming over us, punching and kicking as they went through.
While I was staggering out of the water to T1 and trying in vain to put some heat into my hands, Tony was already away and up the road having had slightly better time getting throuugh the melee. The Bike course was about 38 miles, effectively circling around Helvellyn, that included around 1000 meters of climbing, with some long high-speed descents. Most of the elevation gain was courtesy of 2 climbs, the first after a few miles away from the lake and then at about 28 miles, the infamous “The Struggle” climb to the Kirkstone pass. This 3 mile monster of a climb that kicks up straight away at 20% from Ambleside and climbs up into the clouds. Very few managed to ride the whole way, Tony managed most of it and had to walk the final part. I lost traction on the wet roads after a mile and had to walk for about 200 meters, before a slight respite enabled me to get back on and ride to another steep part near the top where I again had to walk along with everyone else! The downhill is steep and twisty and could be fun in the dry, but with wet and poor surfaced roads with some giant potholes, it was a bit scary. To add to the fun there were some road works with traffic lights that Tony had to stop at and an accident ahead didn’t help him either, but at least it was downhill to T2.
Then onto the “run”, the first part didn’t involve much running as it was the 900 meters ascent of Helvellyn, third highest mountain in England. Even the front runners didn’t run the first part. The route went up Swirral Edge, one of two aretes on the eastern flank of the mountain. There is a sharp drop to each side, although you wouldn’t have known it as the path quickly ascended into heavy cloud and vsibility was non-existent. Tony had poor visibility on the one runnable section after a point known as “Hole-in-the-wall”, before the ascent up the edge, but it was ok when I went through here. It was very windy which kept moving the cloud around. The edge is a scramble up a very steep and rocky section, there were to be no fabulous views of the summit or Red Tarn today and the wind tried to rip us off the mountain. Out on to the summit ridge, visibility was appalling here for me and following the path was quite tricky, but runnable. Then there came the 5 miles descent, with quads burning like never before the secret was to keep going since walking was just painfull!
On to the finish with Theresa and Brigid cheering us on under the shelter of a tree from the rain. Happy it was over but very happy to have done it. The only downside was a mediocre medal and no “T” shirt!
1 mile swim/ 38 mile bike/ 9 mile run