Everyone knows that when it comes to Ironman, it’s the night before the night before the race that is the important one to bank sleep. It’s probably the one bit of solid advice I have to offer when it comes to Ironman planning. Yet here I sit, bolt upright and wide-awake in my hotel bed in Tenby at 3:30am on the 12th of September 2015, rain lashing the window. I’ve got a lump in my throat and my eyes are welling up. I turn on the light and reach for a marker pen. So much for sleep.
Writing my Trans Alpine Run race report was a challenge in itself, such was the off the scale epicness of the event, but here goes….
My wife Aléchia surprised me one day last year with an entry to this race. The GORE TEX Transalpine Run, 260km , 8 Days and through 4 countries, out of her mind as usual. I was training for the London Marathon anyway so how much harder could it be.
After a PB at the London Marathon and chuffed to bits, we set our mind to the Alps. Training switched from the flat road to trail and hill work, North downs, South downs and Wimbledon common were our training ground, not exactly ideal but that’s what south west London has to offer. Hours put in, or so we thought, off to Munich and on to Oberstdorf. Maintenance work on the railway made us feel right at home and with a bus replacement service (foreign to all the Germans and Austrians) we arrived safely.
We opted for the Hotel accommodation during the race instead of the camp. Knowing what I feel like after only a single marathon, a comfy bed would make this race that little bit easier. We were delighted to find that our first night stay was only 30 meters away from registration and the start line for the first stage, result! At registration we got our duffel bags, arm warmers, buffs and all the rest. Dropped everything off that the hotel and off to the pasta party. The race has pasta party every night complete with prize giving for each stage, local entertainment and photos and videos of the day to go along with the food and beer. The first night consisted of an small opening ceremony along with a very long race briefing. By 11PM you could see many tired eyes around you, 650 athletes longing for a good nights rest.
Race pack packed and off to bed. Our duffel bags were left at our Hotel reception every morning to be collected and transported to our hotel in the next town, very well organised.
This first two stages were tough to say the least, along with rain and cold weather this was going to be a challenge unlike anything we have faced before. Day one went well, we completed the 35km in 8h30m, happy with a steady pace staying injury free.
Day two, the the clouds rolled in. Persistent mist, wind, rain and freezing conditions over the last mountain made the 24km stage feel endless. Aléchias knees were starting to feel the strain from the alpine terrain and on the decent into St Anton we found ourselves pushed to make the cut of time. We missed it, by 10min, but due to the bad weather conditions we later received word that the time limit was extended.
The morning of day three, to start or not to start, that was the question Aléchia had to consider, knees swollen and in a lot of pain, she decided to crack on. Only to have to stop after a few km. A tough decision, but the correct one to prevent serious injury to her joints. The four days of rest also allowed her to run the last stage and cross the finish line by my side. I finished stage 3 in good time with my ankle and knees also starting to provide me with a warning that its going to be a long week.
I continued on through stages 4-7, going though all sorts of issues with an over extended ankle and the usual knee issues from 8 days of consecutive pounding over the alpine terrain. Towards the end of stage six I was really thinking of putting an end to the whole thing when I took 2h30m to complete the last 8km decent into St Valentin. Pure agony as I could hardly put any pressure on my left foot and had to use my trekking poles as crutches. The penultimate day I took it easy and by the end of stage 7 I managed to put in a blistering decent with very little pain, not sure if it was the heavy dose the ibuprofen or arnica that made the pain go away, but pretty sure that all my prayers during the previous days were being answered. I crossed the line in Sulden knowing that the last day is going to be though, but that I will finish this race for sure.
The last morning and with Aléchia by my side I was overcome by emotion. 7 days of the toughest racing I have ever done was behind me, just 42km more to go. The last stage was the toughest by far, the extremely rough terrain over the last 15km was covered at snails pace, our bodies pushed to the limit once again but 8h30m later we crossed the line in Latsch, my best friend at my side and in that moment I knew that every step was worth the effort.
Now, two weeks later, sitting back on my sofa, a sore knee and ankle reminding me that I am still in recovery mode, the race still seems like a blur. Got the race photos and all of my GOPRO footage together and try to get to grips of that just happened.
This is one epic race, I have never before experienced similar emotions during a race and trying to put everything into words is so difficult, especially being a photographer and preferring to communicate through images. So I made this video to try and show what a great week I had.
A more comprehensive day to day blog of the race by Aléchia can be found here.
This is not a race, its a journey. Not just over the Alps, but a journey of knowing yourself. Meeting the most awesome and inspiring people along the way, whilst seeing some of the most beautiful places in the world. I can seriously recommend the Transalpine Run to anyone looking for an extreme challenge, I am already looking forward to my next stage race as I am definitely hooked.
And as the race says…”KEEP ON RUNNING”
I love racing. It means I’m motivated to get out training, which in turn means I can eat cake. I’ve been lucky enough to do lots of races, so thought I’d put together a list of my top 5 triathlon events. Races I’ve loved the most and would recommend to anyone. Some terrific races haven’t made the list – and those that have range from sprint to Ironman and even, God strike me down, a duathlon. We at Black Line would love to hear what your favourite races are and why.
So, here are my top 5 triathlon races.
5. Thames Turbo Sprint
Our friends at Thames Turbo put on a series of four sprint races on every bank holiday Monday. There’s a couple of wrinkles – a red light in the middle of the bike course, the road surface is Beirut-esque in places and a seven minute ‘non-compete’ zone at the end of the bike to get back to T2 – but they’re all part of the fun. The Turbos run a cracking club and these races are spot on. Everyone in the club supports and marshals throughout the year, and it’s as much about first timers giving it a go on bikes with baskets on as it is those of us with trick bikes and aero helmets. Hampton Pool is awesome, it’s a short ride from home, the run goes through the splendid Bushy Park and everyone is lovely. I’m an addict. If you’re unsure about giving triathlon a go, then try this out. You’ll love it too. Just remember to respect the red…
4. Challenge Roth
However big triathlon is getting in the UK thanks to the Brownlees, Chrissie et al, in Germany it is bigger. They love the sport. I suspect it’s the opportunity to swan around in Lycra, compression socks, Crocs and neon visors. Roth is the spiritual home of Ironman in Europe. The oldest race and a region that laps it up. There’s much awesomeness going on here… a swim in a narrow canal where you can’t get lost, a fast bike course on silky smooth roads, the most amazing Tour-esque crowd on the Solar hill, and locals that sit out all day drinking high strength lager, shouting ‘hop hop hop’ as you go about your work. If you’re into iron-distance racing you simply have to do Roth. It’s worth it just for the firework display that welcomes the final finishers in at midnight. And the Bavarian meat platter the following day.
Duathlons are like marmite to the triathlon community. Designed by pool-dodging wimps who aren’t tough enough for triathlon? Or is it just those super fast runners come out to play to make us look like the jack of all trades that we really are? I tend to avoid them… other than my annual trip to the aptly named Ballbuster. However, this is no ordinary duathlon. Races of any type or distance rarely come harder. It’s like a marathon, and I retired from doing those (unless preceded by a 6-7hr warm up splash and pedal) because they hurt so much. I train on Boxhill most weekends and it’s not particularly hard to ride up. However the challenge of climbing Col de Box by foot, three times by bike and then by foot once more for good measure is quite unique. The second run is pure hell with legs like blocks of ice. Plus it’s in March and November. It will be cold and probably wet. It’s agony. I love it.
2. Ironman Wales
There’s so much to hate about this race. Choppy sea swim, 18% hills on the bike, more hills on the marathon, wind and rain. It’s just one tough bastard of a race. But those reasons are also reasons to love it. This is triathlon as it was meant to be – throw any targeted splits out of the window as the course is a brute, the conditions could be anything (although the rain will come in sideways, that’s written in the contract)… it’s just simply about getting yourself to the finish line in one piece however you can. Pembrokeshire is stunning – bombing down the hill through the sand dunes at Freshwater West at 40mph with a gale blowing in off the ocean while my disc wheel acted as a parachute throwing the bike across the road is one of my favourite memories of my racing year. Then Tenby during the run is amazing. Thousands of drunk Welsh folk screaming at you as you go up and down a bloody big hill. Madness. There are two Ironman races in the UK, both with similar ingredients – hilly and hard. For one reason or another I’ve never been attracted to Bolton, but at Tenby they throw a little magic into the mix. It’s a cracker.
1. Ironman 70.3 UK – Wimbleball
I love Ironman racing, but top of the pops here is ‘only’ a half Ironman. But anyone who has done Wimbleball will tell you this isn’t really ‘only’ a half – it’s more like a three-quarter Ironman. There’s a theme to the sharp end of my list… hills. If you also like hills then get yourself to Wimbleball. Frankly it’s a bit of an organisational shambles down at Wimbleball Lake, as anyone who has sat in the weekend long traffic jam will tell you. The folk at Ironman UK try to get 2,000 people and kit down and out on a single track lane via a rickety fence into a mudbath of a field. Plus there’s no mobile reception within 10 miles. It’s a bit of a shambles. But when the gun goes it’s all worth it. A freezing swim, having to run up a massive hill to get you to T1, a reported 56 hills in 56 miles on the bike, then to top it off they throw the same sting in the tail at you as they do at Ironman Wales – a hilly run after a hilly bike. Only this time you need off road shoes as half of it is on the side of a grass bank. There’s this one hill on the run hidden away from view that must be 15% or so. Listen closely and you’ll hear grown men whimper and talk to themselves. Three out and back sections on the run mean you can’t shy away from a proper head to head race with anyone you know that’s close to you. Old fashioned racing as it should be, and I keep going back for more. Do it.