This time last week I had just finished The Lakesman iron distance triathlon. Writing that feels a little surreal, did it actually happen? Did I actually finish an Ironman? Well this large piece of slate says I did so it must be true!
It’s always a weird feeling when you complete a big race or challenge, something you’ve been working towards and dreaming of for a long time. I’ve spent every Sunday night for the past 30 weeks planning how to fit my training in around family and work life, every time we made weekend plans my first thought was always ‘does it stop me doing my long ride?’. Commitment and obsession are definitely the required values of a wannabe ironman.
Why The Lakesman?
The logic went something like this; an Ironman is going to involve pain and suffering so if I’m going to do one I might as well do it in a location that inspires me. I’m a trail runner at heart and there are few towns as closely intertwined in trail running history as Keswick. Having a course that went past most of those famous peaks seemed just perfect. How could you ever choose Bolton instead?
Add to that a reasonable entry fee (£275 – still a lot of money to do a race of course, but given what’s required to put on a race like this I’m sure justified), incredibly positive feedback from the inaugural race last year and a race ethos that focused on the athletes and not the brand and I think you have a winning package.
The final aspect I did check before getting too carried away was the number of athletes and their finishing times last year. I didn’t want to do a massive race where I would be lost in the numbers but also wanted to make sure that I wouldn’t find myself out on the run course alone miles behind a fast field. The race is limited to 400 people which I think is a nice number and I’d say looking at this years results also has as good spread of times with a large mid pack.
The day before the race
We drove up on the Friday to make it a 4 day weekend and also to avoid doing a 4 hour journey the day before a race which really wouldn’t have been a good idea. Plus I don’t think I’d have wanted the stress of worrying about getting there in time on Saturday to register, rack my bike and attend the race briefing.
I registered on Friday night instead which gave me loads more time to faff around packing and unpacking my transition bags and getting those number stickers just right. Getting myself ready and organised certainly helped calm the nerves but definitely didn’t stop me being grumpy for most of Saturday.
Saturday we took advantage of the glorious weather (glorious when you can wander in the woods, not so when thinking about the race the next day) and had a boat trip on Derwent Water with the kids before I headed up to transition to rack my bike and attend the race briefing. All very easy, no rush, everyone relaxed and officials in charge without being over zealous.
The opening speech at the race briefing from the race director set the tone for the race “we put this briefing on because you requested it, we don’t have loads of info to tell you, we just want to answer your questions so you have a great day”. Perfect. A race for the athletes and with some rules relaxed so that we had a good day and finished (no issue handing anything to athletes on the run course, no problem for someone to run with you on the run course).
As my brother said to me, there is nothing like the feeling of being in transition before a triathlon. Stupidly early on a Sunday yet buzzing with people and a atmosphere full of nervous excitement. Even better when the sun is shining and you’re stood on the banks of a beautiful lake. There really can’t be a better triathlon start line out there.
I checked my bike, pumped the tyres a little, had a final poo stop and headed to the lake. I took up a position on the swim start line well away from the masses, happy to sacrifice a little time to avoid the scrum. The hooter sounded and we were off on this crazy adventure with an almost flat lake ahead of us. I struggled a little to get into my rhythm but just tried to enjoy it and avoid the zig zag swimmers. The swim actually passed reasonably quickly and after being blinded by the sun swimming to the finish I dragged myself to my feet and gladly high fived Phil the race director as I headed up the carpet and hill to transition.
It was around this point I discovered that I couldn’t actually feel my feet and was attempting to run with what were in effect 2 slabs of frozen meat attached to my legs. Always interesting. I’d planned to walk up the hill to transition and catch my breath but the adrenaline kicked in with crowds either side of the carpet so I powered up instead, shouted some hello’s to the family and headed into the tent.
There was an awful lot of faffing around going on in there, not entirely sure what people were doing but I ripped my wetsuit off (with no cramp for the first time ever), pulled my socks and helmet on and headed for my bike. Looking at the results I think I overtook 20 odd people in transition!
The bike course promised a flattish route and after the first 40km or so a long flat stretch along the coast with a nice tail wind. I tried not to get carried away at the start knowing the distance ahead and also that my longest training ride was 128km. I was passed as expected in the first 20km by what looked like strong bikers but also managed to pass a few myself. I’m not a big fan of sitting grinding out a bike ride in a big gear but actually really enjoyed that coast road until around 100km when I started to get a stiff neck from the TT position. To be expected but I did start to have some breaks and sit up for periods to help shift the pressure points.
The aid stations were great, at nice intervals and large so easy to swing through and grab what was needed. Although to be honest I didn’t use them until around 2/3 distance as had carried 2 bottles on the bike with Tailwind in (I’ll do a future post on nutrition) and had a crossbar bag with Jersey Pocket bars in. Both worked perfectly and kept me well fuelled. I was eating and drinking well and well ahead of the time I expected.
The top of the bike course has a small loop you repeat, I was so glad to see the signs for this as knew it meant I would soon be turning for home. What I’d missed though was that the next 20km was a little lumpy, nothing significant but certainly enough to get the heart rate going and legs burning. Slowing down on the hills you also realised how hot it was already, never a good sign feeling hot on the bike leg is it?
But I enjoyed this section and took pleasure in overtaking quite a few folk up the hills who had flown past me on the flat. Then it was a beautiful cruise on new tarmac back into Keswick and the small task of a marathon.
I didn’t spend much time in transition again, just washed the sweat off my face and had a nice lady put sun cream on my neck then out into the baying crowd and first of 5 laps. Laps 1 and 2 were great, bang on goal pace (sub 4) and felt like I was moving well. Plenty of access to aid stations on the route (around every 2.5km) and given the weather the organisers had put on people with wet sponges to help cool you down and 2 spots where you go hosed down. The temperature was in the high 20’s so I just kept my heart rate down and took a few seconds to get soaked at every opportunity.
Lap 3 the heat started to get to me and I took some walking breaks. I didn’t feel like eating much but thankfully did think to give my supporters a small hand held soft flask with Tailwind in it. I drank that on the way around and then refilled with isotonic from the aid stations. I found this much easier than trying to take on fluid from cups each time with my stomach not wanting that much in one go.
I thought I was slowing quite a bit but my stats after showed that actually those final 3 laps were broadly the same. But I wasn’t pushing too hard, no point in that heat and being well ahead of my sub 13 time goal thanks to the bike. So I tried to enjoy the atmosphere and also take a few seconds with my family and kids each time I saw them. The beauty of the run course was you see them at least 5 times and actually easy for them to move around and pop up in other spots.
The only thing I didn’t like on the run course was that almost half of it involved running up and down a closed section of A road 4 times. The only way to have a marathon that doesn’t go far from town I know but I was certainly glad to see the back of it on my last lap! On the plus side it did mean you could chat to people going the other way and exchange grimaces.
Before I knew it I was half way through that final run lap and heading back to towards transition for the final time. I picked the pace up as much as I could and found that last bit of energy to carry my body to the finish line. Running up that finishers chute with my kids holding my hands on fathers day is a memory that will live with me for a long time. Even sitting here writing this I can feel the emotion bubbling up and tears forming. It’s been a long and tough road getting here and I feel immensely proud of what I’ve achieved.
“Benjamin Tipping you are a Lakesman”. Finishing time 12:33:48
If you want to do an Ironman and you’re not interested in Kona places then The Lakesman is the race for you. It’s a fast course (particularly the bike) if a quick time is your goal, it’s a friendly race if just finishing is the goal. Next year there is also a half ironman if the full is a bit too much.
The support was awesome; loads of people out on the bike course cheering and the run course was magnificent with seemingly the whole town out. A very easy race to be a spectator too and let’s be honest it’s a long day for them too.
The marshalls/officials were fabulous; so helpful and supportive, loved the Pirate triathlon guys half way on that dreaded A road on the run course with a PA and music playing cheering people on. Well stocked aid stations too.
What could be improved? Transition was on a car park and featured some kerbs in the middle which I’m sure caught a few people out, it was also reasonably tight for racking your bike. That’s about it. Honestly.