What a tough one! This was the 30th anniversary of the Blaenafon Triathlon, and it now shares the title of longest running tri in the UK with a race in Ireland. A huge milestone, but it’s not surprising, as it’s such a challenging race. No one who finished this one yesterday doesn’t feel a real sense of achievement today.
I entered partly because it was local, and partly because it fit in nicely with my Ironman training plan. The plan called for an Olympic distance this weekend, and when I found out about Blaenafon I thought, ‘Oh, well, that’s not far off Olympic distance’. What I didn’t realise until after I’d entered was … this is probably unlike any other triathlon out there.
800m swim, 28 mile bike, 7 mile run … but even the swim was uphill.
It was great doing a race with quite a few people I knew — my old mate Mark Jones, a guy from my village, and a load of people from NEWTs. It was also really nice to meet up with some Pirates! — Seren Nos, Broke But Trying, and marshalling at the poolside, Iron Pingu. They also have real names, honest.
I’ve done the bike ride once before, and found it really hard. That time I did it with three others, and that really helped, having someone to chat to and urge me on. This time was different.
But first, the swim! It went pretty well, I think I probably hit about 18 minutes for 800m, about what I’d hoped. Transition was slow-ish (that’s something for me to work on) then I was out on the bike. For the first few easy-ish miles I was already feeling the effects of the swim, and as I started up the first of the two mountains — the Blorenge — the pain began. Really, really tough. I think the transition from swimming to biking took some time for my muscles to get used to. That, or I’m crap, not sure which! Anyway, I’d overtaken 4 or 5 people on the bike already, but that ended here … and then I heard ‘Come in number 14, your time is up!’ and Mark sailed past me (going uphill!). Git. But good on him, he’s a really powerful cyclist.
I took my one and only rest soon after, a minute to catch my breath halfway up a really steep climb. Worried that I wouldn’t be able to go on (I always have a moment like that in any race, be it a 10k run or a triathlon), then I manned up and set off again. Finishing the Blorenge was a good feeling, but it was already rainy and cold, with a hard wind blowing across the exposed landscape. Sailing down into Blaenavon was tough, the roads were greasy from the rain and the wind was biting. I was shivering!
I paused briefly to slip on my windproof … I’d be glad of that later.
Second mountain is called The British, and it’s pretty desolate, remote, and yesterday it was misty and bloody windy. It’s essentially one very long, steep climb, unrelenting and mostly visible all the way ahead, so I dipped my head down to look just ahead and did my best to find a happy place. Shouted at myself a bit (scared some sheep), and a couple of dickheads in cars drove by as if there wasn’t a cyclist on the road at all.
But hitting the top was a great feeling. The long descent back down to the main road was bumpy and lonely — I hadn’t seen another cyclist since Mark overtook me, and for pretty much the whole ride I was alone. The road surface was very challenging, but I was prepared for that, and I made it down to the main road in one piece. A quick ride back to Pontypool, one last cheeky climb, then back into transition. Another slowish transition, then out onto the run.
I had some cramps on the 7 mile, hilly, mostly off-road run, but nothing that caused me big problems. I ran through it, knowing the run wasn’t too long (and I’m very familiar with the route). Power-walked up a couple of the steepest hills, then once I rounded the Folly Tower it was downhill all the way to the finish.
A great, great feeling running through the finish and being cheered in by family and friends. Mark had finished first out of our wave, a full sixteen minutes before me (I finished in 3:34, I’d been anticipating maybe a 4 hour race so I’m very chuffed with that). Shower, coffee, and then we went to the buffet for presentation and grub. Mark won 3rd place in Super Veterans! Good on him.
Now, a special word about the organiser and marshals. They were wonderful. It was such a well-organised raced, everything went smoothly, the course was well-marked (although I did speak to one bloke who went the wrong way on the bike partway up the Blorenge … taking a lane clearly marked ‘Dead End!’). And the marshals were all, without exception, encouraging and supportive. I started looking forward to seeing one, especially on the long, longly, misty, wet and cold ride. Always a cheer, always a clap, they’re worth their weight in gold.
It was also great being cheered on by fellow NEWTs through transition, there’s nothing like an encouraging shout — especially from bike to run, when my legs were lead and exhaustion was close.
So a major thanks to the organisers, marshals and supporters for making this probably my favourite race. Toughest too, without a doubt.
Today is a rest day. I’m refuelling. But in 4 weeks I have my first Half-Ironman, so I can’t rest for too long!