I am still on a bit of a high from my weekend in Snowdonia where I took on the Always Aim High Slateman Triathlon.
I had not tapered for the race as I am building up for Challenge Roth in July and cannot really afford any time off training at present. So, my build-up in the preceding week had included a 90km cycle, a 12km obstacle-course race, a half-marathon and a two-hour session on the Wattbike. This event was meant to be a gauge for me of where my fitness levels were, race-day practice and to see whether I could still remember how triathlon worked, having not competed in one in nine months. However, once in Llanberis and amongst the race-faces, my competitive side took over.
I was representing Race Force at the event and was available as a Race Buddy to anyone needing assistance at registration and in transition, or to anyone who wanted to discuss the course and how I was approaching it.
Upon learning that the water temperature had risen from the 7 degrees it was at the Race Force Training Weekend three weeks earlier to a tropical 13 degrees, and with the 500 sprint competitors registered and appearing to be okay, I made a decision to race the sprint event with about 90 minutes to go.
The sprint event consisted of a 400 metre swim in Padarn Lake, a 20km cycle with a turnaround point at the top of Llanberis pass (from where you can start your walk up Snowdon) and a great 6km trail run looping into the forest behind Padarn Lake.
The elite men went off in wave 1, followed by the women in wave 2 and then the male savage entrants in wave 3. Those in the ‘savage’ category were planning on competing in the Slateman Full triathlon the following day as well. I was in wave 3 and had my neoprene swim hat on, ready to embrace the cold. The water was still a shock to the system, but because I has been expecting it to be four or five degrees colder, I was actually really happy in there! I exited the water in third place and having only swam once in the previous three weeks, I was happy with this.
The cycle is fantastic. The climb is challenging but at around 4km in length and only really ramping up in gradient towards the top, is completely manageable for everyone. I had shot off on the cycle, a bit too eager to put some power down on my new Cervelo P5 (the first time I had ridden it) and blew up slightly right near the top of the climb. As the heavens opened I also lost all confidence in my brakes and decided to take the downhill sections fairly easily. This allowed Grant Bateman to come past me and build an advantage over me of around one minute as we headed out onto the 6km run.
I caught Grant around 2km into the run and tried to continue my pace in order to build an advantage ahead of the longer race the following day. I felt strong and so I pushed on. At the finish I had built a lead of almost two minutes as I finished in 1 hr 14 mins 36 secs and to the surprise of most people, the top three from the savage event had finished as top three for the overall sprint event. Maybe I did turn to Ironman racing too soon after all!? That was a nice start to the weekend, made even better when we saw Shirley crossing the line and immediately collecting her age-group winner’s prize! Amazing stuff Shirley!
My girlfriend, Gemma, had come with me for the weekend and had been on ‘live twitter’ duty whilst I was racing. So, feeling okay and with the ankle I had turned during the morning race feeling better after a 20-minute spell standing in the lake, we turned our attention to climbing Snowdon that afternoon.
I was expecting a nice little jaunt that would act as a nice recovery walk post-racing. I thought we could bring the estimated time for the walk down from five hours to around 3. I was wrong.
But, despite the fact that miner’s walk is actually pretty tough and that my legs weren’t getting the rest they should have been, it was all worth it for some of the views on the way up. I cursed at the people arriving by train as we summited, but it was great to include climbing Snowdon into the weekend’s activities. If you haven’t climbed it before then I would definitely recommend doing it when you are attending an Always Aim High event. Maybe think about doing it after you have completed all of your weekend’s races though!
I woke up on Sunday feeling average, with the legs as tired as they should have been and my ankle hurting from having gone over on it the previous day. However, after a good breakfast and again seeing friendly faces from the Race Force Training Weekend, I perked up and was ready to go again. Angela, Paul and Geoff from the Training Weekend were also racing and Angela, despite being ill overnight, was ready to jump back in!
Today the 160 savage entrants would start in wave 4, behind the elite men, savage women and then all women. The 1,000 metre swim went quickly and was made more interesting by having to swim in a zig-zag to get around the women in the wave ahead who we had caught.
Out on the bike and I was in third place, behind Grant and Paul, who had come third on day one. I was struggling to get my feet in my cycle shoes as I was already struggling with the cold. I had also decided to discard the jacket I was going to put on in transition as it was already sodden. Given the number of races I have done I thought my planning against the cold and rain was awful. It helped afterwards to speak with Suzie Richards, the female winner, and learn that she had actually put her bike shoes the wrong way around on her pedals. Amateurs, the lot of us!
I worked well over Llanberis Pass, where I saw Angela at the same point as I had the day before (and going really well!) and caught Paul soon afterwards. The rain started to become more persistent at this point and my teeth were now chattering. My hands had become too cold to use the brakes properly and were now too cold to actually get the gloves I had shoved down my race top on! This lead to some cautious descending and slow cornering as I put my safety above racing, for a change.
Back in T2 and I had given up on catching Grant having been told he had a lead of over four minutes and still feeling very cold. However, if I could close the gap I could still win the savage event. I put my sunglasses on as I wished the sun to come out (it did, about 10 minutes later) and jogged along the 2km to the start of the slate mine quarry climb.
There was a king of the mountain segment for this amazing 2km climb and with my legs coming back to me, I went for it. I felt stronger the more I climbed and finished the segment in 8:47 mins. This got me second place for the segment, just five seconds off the fastest time (which the overall winner on the day posted). Not bad given what I had already done!
I pushed over the top and was now feeling okay. I passed Grant at the top and then carried on around the rest of the course, re-joining the loop we had run the previous day in the sprint race, and recording the fourth fastest run split of the day and a total time for the combined savage event of 3 hrs, 53 minutes 45 secs.
Although I was only 13th on the day for the full event, I put this largely down to an overly-cautious cycle and I am really pleased to have won the sprint and savage events. It’s tempting just to race the full distance next time, but it always seems more tempting to try and do absolutely everything on offer!
The course on both days was simply stunning and the event village had everything you needed to keep spectators and competitors buzzing. Everything ran smoothly and was well organised by the crew at Always Aim High and they have a lot of return entrants, highlighting the fact that the races really are very good.
The Slateman is the first triathlon in the Always Aim High Adventure Triathlon Series, which also includes the Snowdonia Triathlon Festival (30/31 July) and the Sandman Triathlon (17/18 September). I will be at both races, providing my legs recover from Challenge Roth in time, and am looking forward to seeing new faces at them both!
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