Wow, what a great event! I think that sets the scene for my thoughts on my exploits up in North Wales at the Slateman Sprint Duathlon. For someone that has never been a fan of hills, trails or fast bike descents, training for and then racing this event rather took me out of my comfort zone. But ultimately was it worth the effort?
For those of you that may be unfamiliar with Slateman, it is set in Llanberis at the foot of Snowdon and is all about challenging (read bloody difficult) terrain. The scenery does not disappoint, the race being named after the fact that the area is dominated by slate quarries. Which tells you all you need to know abut the terrain (slate + snowdon). I rather optimistically (naively) entered it in my ongoing quest to try and qualify for the Age Group team.
But as I got more into the detailed planning and training for it, soon I realised that actually just finishing would require a lot of work, let alone being competitive. As the day panned out I did finish, I wasn’t competitive, and I still have an unfulfilled ambition to qualify for the Age Group team.
In the lead up to the race it became clear that the weather was going to be a factor. Wind being the issue, and it didn’t disappoint. Disc wheels and deep rims were banned on safety grounds and the pre-race briefing emphasised the need for vigilance on various parts of the course. I very cautiously took my road bike set up with climbing wheels (R-Sys) that are very shallow. In addition I have a big cassette on these wheels that I bought for Tri Alp d’huez (which never happened, but I got all the gear!).
Even with this set up the closing 5k along the lakeside (flat) was properly windy and enough to unsettle the bike and push me across the road. On the way down the pass the few times I got up to about 30kph it all felt very unstable.
Wot No T-Shirt
Overall a well organised race. The onsite team were pleasant enough and largely seemed on top of their game. I registered on the Friday night and was directed to collect my event t-shirt having registered. Unfortunately though this seemed to be a mix up in communications as they have adopted the same rubbish policy as some other organisers (to cut costs no doubt) and only give you a free buff and cheap bottle. No t-shirt. Took the edge off a bit really. But not the biggest issue in my life. I know everyone “moans” about having a pile of t-shirts, but that’s because we like to moan NOT because we want a rubbish buff instead <eyes rolling emoji>
Run 1 : 14:30
This was a 2.5k run and really I backed off and took it easy, trying to be conservative with my pacing. In my mind this race was all about “surviving” the bike leg, so I wasn’t going to overly fatigue my legs on the first run. To be honest I could have (and should have) gone harder. My training stood me in good stead and the climbing felt very doable.
The run itself was a gentle intro to the theme of the race : hills! Nothing too steep in this opening run. Short technical piece going up a very short climb on a slate / trail type surface. It was easy enough to run up. Some nice views once you got up the hill a bit. Course was essentially out and back. I ran it in road shoes and had no issues. It didn’t seem to me that I would have got anything from having trail shoes on. Even in the wet, this would have been fine in road shoes as the amount of slate was minimal.
The route was also largely sheltered, therefore pretty much perfect running conditions and the wind was not a factor. Being very short, there wouldn’t have been much to gain from going really hard, but as noted I should have got my arse in a different gear.
T1 : 1:47
I do love Duathlon… No bloody wetsuit to fight with. No issues with finding my glasses once out of the water. No running along and cutting my bare feet. No hypoxia from poor breathing in the swim. Yes Duathlon has a LOT going for it. The only downside is you are using your legs all day…
T1 was drama free. Simply a change of shoes and stick a bike helmet on. Clothes from Run 1 were fine and with no chance of rain then no need for a jacket. Decided to take a bottle out on the bike (zero carb) but in the event made little use of it. Remembered to set up the Garmin and the bike was even in the right gear… I am getting so organised 😉
Bike : 1:04:06
So this was it… The Bike Leg, and the part that I was most concerned about. Between you and I dear reader, I actually expected to get off the bike and push it DOWN the hill… I really had made a “thing” in my mind about the descent.
First 5k ish were easy flatish straight road and would have been fast on a TT bike. Wind seemed to be of no consequence and the route was dead easy.
Next 5k was a closed road section and the climb. A lot of my training had been all about this section. And it paid off – happy days! Overtook a lot of people. Bike set up was spot on. Pacing was on point. Shoulders were relaxed. It all came together. The 11% sections were a piece of cake and even the summit with its 15% for 300ms was done before I really took note. As you know I am very happy to say when I fuck it up, but honestly I nailed this climb and felt very pleased with how I did.
Short lived. The hairpin U turn at the turn point was not well executed. You come down from the peak of the pass on a proper descent towards a closed t-junction. Do a tight U turn and then straight into a climb. Whilst I made the right gear choice I didn’t turn well and had to stop. Such a gent I let a few past me whilst I got organised and started the climb from a standing start. Sub-optimal.
But that was just the start of the bad stuff. Having reached the peak of the pass again, the next step was the 15% gradient again but now going down hill. The good news is a stayed on the bike and told myself that all I had to do was slowly work my way down. I had loads of time in hand against the cut off. And this mantra was then carried on for 5 LONG kilometres. All the way down. I literally rode 5km feathering and breaking ALL THE TIME!
To be fair walking might well have been quicker!
Pretty much the whole pack flew past me. Some were hitting outrageous speeds and one was perched on his cross bar to get ultra aero.
I didn’t like the instability from the wind. I didn’t like the technical nature (it wasn’t a straight line). I didn’t like the walkers everywhere. I didn’t like the sheep. I didn’t like the parked cars. I didn’t like the others overtaking me in close proximity. You get the general idea… I was not happy and not much to like. I probably lost somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes dollying about with this descent. And that was the sound of what could have been a good time leaving the room.
Final 5k was funny. It was back along the flat road by the lake. But this time I almost had a sense of euphoria… I had made it down the mountain and lived. Just a flat (but now very gusty) 5k ride back to transition and then a 5k run. Childs play! I had survived the mountain. It was all just a walk in the park from here.
No drama. Ran in. Some numpty flew past the dismount line and rode his bike into T2… I smiled. Mostly because I was still on a natural high from having survived the mountain. Found my bike spot easily. Remembered where Run Out was. Got reminded to spin my number round (but hey that’s traditional now!). No drama, easy transition and felt amazing.
Run 2 : 41:15
Feeling very good as I headed out for run two. Partly because the first run had been nowhere near as challenging as I first thought (and therefore now believed that either I was a super God runner or this had been exaggerated), but also because I had just survived the bike leg. It’s basically just a park run – how hard can that be?!?!?!
All went well as we retraced the path up towards the hospital as per run one. But then we turned into the woods and I discovered what all the fuss was about. Terrain turned into a single file path, over loose slate with large stone boulders protruding. Tree roots adding to the hazards. Steep steps to climb. And then in short order the gradient properly kicked in. Nobody was running. In fact most were not even upright, using hands to scramble up the path. I walked. But I had no sense that this was the “walk of shame”… It was in fact the only way I was going to reach the ridge at the top. This continued for the about 1k and be the time it was runnable again my calves and glutes were properly burning.
I confess dear reader that I walked a bit that could have been run. My legs were just not having it! But a little word with myself and a few breaths saw me manage something akin to an Ironman marathon shuffle (it sort of feels like running, but looks nothing like it, with no real progress and onlookers wondering if you are fighting a physical disability…).
Things improved. A few level bits. A few downhill bits. All pretty technical, but increasingly doable. Then as we approached the hospital for the last time you could hear the commentator in the event village and the spectators supporting. The end was close – but in a good way!
In fact a VERY good way. I felt pretty strong and decided that a full on sprint finish was on the cards. 600m roughly to go, finish shoot in sight and a lone runner ahead – I could certainly “have” him 🙂
Much grunting and snorting followed as I put in my final 300m sprint effort and caught him on the line. (Training really paid off BIG TIME here, but then I would say that right!!). Enjoyed the crowd support and commentary of my finish (“too much energy left”… err no! I was prepared to throw up if needed and finished with nothing left).
And so it was done. I had finished Slateman. And felt bloody proud – without a care as to what the finish times looked like.
Race by numbers
The original (foolhardy, naive, unrealistic) plan was to see if I could possibly manage to qualify in my Age Group. Later this turned to could I finish within the cut off. So what actually happened? Well clearly I didn’t qualify! But I easily finished in the cut offs.
In my age group I came last. That would be 19th out of 19 other 50+ year old males. Pretty impressive – as I was a full 8 minutes behind the chap in 18th place. Think of all the things you can do in 8 minutes… I will leave you with that thought.
The winner of my age group finished in 1:18:55. Using the 15% rule for a potential qualification ( I know…. but I like doing maths!) I would have had to finish in about 1:30. So I was 30minutes outside even being remotely eligible. As far as Age Group stuff went I was nowhere remotely close.
Fractionally better in Gender as I was the 60th out if 64 males. Not much better but at least not last! Within 2 seconds of the 59th and 24seconds of 58th. So had I got my arse in gear in either of the runs then I would have done a lot better. Had I saved 10 minutes by actually riding down the hill rather than being an utter wuss then I could have improved my Gender result by about 10 places…
And finally my overall position was 86th of 93 finishers. Some didn’t finish.
Final time was 2:03. A sub 2hour race would have been good. But only in hindsight. I say that because going into this little adventure on the Friday evening, I had in my head that I might withdraw during the bike leg and end up with a DNF. That didn’t happen.
It was an amazing day in so many ways and I would highly recommend this race. Did I make the best job of it? No… it never pays to not push at every stage, because we all know that when we look at the results afterwards 30seconds here and 3minutes there would have painted a different picture on the score board. And of course there was probably 10 to 15 minutes on the bike that were wasted. A bit more confidence in my own ability would have been helpful and realising how different I am now (both physically and interms of knowledge). But this is all easy to reflect on with a mug of tea as I write this blog. Half way up a bloody slate quarry in a howling gale is a very different proposition.
Often the difference between good, average and poor performance is what happens in our heads. Our minds often give up well before our bodies would choose to.
I never buy the event merchandise (t-shirt or hoodie). The only time I have ever done that was on finishing the Long Course (full distance Triathlon) in Mallorca. On that occasion I considered that I had truly achieved something that I *NEVER* thought someone like me could do… I bought the t-shirt (and hoodie) on Saturday for the Slateman 2022 race with similar feelings.