The Helvellyn Triathlon is a particularly brutal event, that really challenges the triathletes that line up for the challenge. It’s one thing completing, but its another competing. Being on the TORQ team Alex was competing, and achieved 1st overall with plenty of spare time, putting him with other past distinguished winners such as the Olympic champion Alastair Brownlee…
There aren’t many races I’ll ever do where there’s an opportunity to add your name alongside Alistair Brownlee’s on the list of winners, which goes to show the allure that the race has, once named by Triathlete Europe as one of the 10 toughest races on the planet. On paper (which doesn’t do the race justice) the race falls somewhere between an Olympic and Half Ironman distance consists of:
- 1 mile swim in Ullswater – England’s most beautiful lake
- 38 miles cycle – including the Kirkstone Pass
- 9 miles run up Helvellyn – 3118 feet (England’s 3rd highest peak)
After a disappointing race at the British Champs in Liverpool (4th in age group is still impressive to most – JE), my motivation and energy levels took a nosedive, along with the weather as Summer seemed to evaporate overnight and Autumn had settled in. But slowly and surely after things seemed to pick up and after a good race at Salford, I can’t remember looking forward to a race this year as much as this one.
Fortunately, come race day, the all-important British weather Gods were in our favour and although I was freezing my arse off in transition, it was a lot warmer in the water. Knowing there were some fast swimmers in the name of Alex Foster and Beau Smith (racing as relay) I was hoping there’d be a good group to draft in. 400m in and there was, helping the swim feel pretty easy and so enjoyable that I was a bit disappointed when I had to get out.
If the swim was nice, the bike was even better. 60 odd kilometres through the Lake District on a beautiful day, with a few climbs including the infamous ‘Struggle’ thrown in to keep things interesting. Going out onto the bike in 2nd place in the solo race, I was surprised to pass Alex and take the lead within the first few km (unfortunately Beau had a major mechanical straight out of T1). Admittedly Alex had been having back issues for the last few weeks, so did well to start the race let alone finish. Leading a race is great, but with no one to chase, I was conscious that there was a danger I’d subconsciously ease off the pace a bit. This was something I didn’t want, as I had no idea as to whether there were some specialist fell runners who might make time up on the run. I’m a big fan/ slightly dependant on the morning espresso to get going and the TORQ guarana gels were a big help for keeping the pace and focus on the bike. Once out on course, there is no neglecting that after the mile swim, best part of 45k on the bike, and just before you run to the top of Helvellyn you have to tackle the ‘Struggle’, a 20% gradient climb which kicks up from the start and rarely lets up until your cheered over the top and begin the descent back down to Patterdale.
With a few km’s to go on the bike I was passed my someone powering along in a big gear, too big if you were planning on doing a decent run I thought, I hoped. The nature of the run is summed up through the mandatory kit list of……..map, compass, foil survival blanket, full body cover (thanks to Pete Wilson at JMC IT for kitting me out with this). Heading out of transition and onto the run I got a shout that the cyclist who’d gone past me was a relay team and I had a good lead After recce’ing the course a few weeks before the race, I knew the hardest bit was the initial climb. It is too steep to properly run, yet still too low for a nice cool mountain breeze and a real killer on the lower back especially after the time. I was enjoying it though and when the ground levelled out at the top of Birkhouse moor, I felt as fresh as ever and felt I’d maintained a good pace and form. Scrambling up to the summit, I almost wished I stopped to admire the view, but a race aint over till it’s over and I was confident that the only thing to prevent a win would be going over on an ankle on the winding descent back down – something that has nearly happened more than once. There was great support throughout the race and at the finish line. With the nature of triathlons and multiple wave starts, the times when you cross the line and are 99.99% sure you’ve won, are few and far between.
In terms of the numbers, I was 6th overall on the swim (22:20), 2nd on the bike (01:47:58) and I’m going to say 1st on the run (01:20:45), assuming the 039:30 posted is an anomoloy! I’ve enjoyed all my races this year (bar one or two due to a mechanical or physical failure), but often the majority of the enjoyment and satisfaction has been borne out of the end result, rather than the race itself. Whilst I’m really happy and proud to win a race like this, I think it’s a great way to end the season. I also think it would have been a great and fun race irrespective of the result.