Enduroman Ultra Triathlon Championships – Avon Tyrrell

Not really too sure where to start this race report so thought I would start by thanking those people that in some way or form influenced my decision to enter the Triple at Avon Tyrell. First of all my dad, over the years I have seen him do / achieve some incredible things, he has never pushed me to do anything but has supported me in all that I do. My mum, who will do anything for anybody no matter how big or small, I know she was nervous about me doing the Triple but she wholeheartedly gave everything so that I would finish.

My wife my best friend, who has endured the countless amount of training hours that I have had to dedicate to this event, when times have been hard she has been there, she has also had to sacrifice a lot and for that I am deeply grateful. Paul Thompson (Triple, Double Enduroman Winner), I first saw Paul Compete at Litchfield and admired his focus and drive, he won in style and was still able to put his running trainers back on and help other athletes to achieve their goals. Gareth Wheeler, training partner, Double Enduroman finisher, a great friend who is as mad as I am.

There are more people that I would like to thank, but if I don’t start this report I may still be writing it next year, my apologies for not mentioning you.

Pre – Race

The weekend before the race I marshalled at Avon Tyrell for the first three days of the Deca, this was inspiring and also gave me an insight into how the Deca guys and Monique responded to the course. Although these were long days having watched them start each morning my self and Judith (Litchfield Double Finisher) felt that we needed to see each athlete finish whilst we were there. I was inspired by the determination of those athletes, Big Ted, Mon and Keith Laing especially, the sheer grittiness of them arriving at the start line each morning reminded me why I loved this ultra stuff and this made me proud to be involved in something so special.

In my mind I thought that I was ready for the Triple but those three days made me realize that finishing was going to require a sheer bloody mindedness to get the job done. Although I knew I had to return home to prepare myself I could have quite easily stayed at Avon Tyrell for the remainder of the week.

The day before the race, registration took place at 4pm followed by the race brief, 16 athletes had arrived, there were some familiar faces, I think all of us at that time were anxious and didn’t really know the extent of what we were letting ourselves in for! Steve gave the brief and he started with saying that due to how hard the course is proving to be he wanted to change the start time from the scheduled time of 2 p.m the next afternoon to 8 a.m the following morning, this didn’t go down too well with some of the athletes as their pre race preparation had allowed for the time in the morning.

Steve continued to say that the benefits of the amended start time would be that some of the athletes would not have to do a third night of racing, I think it was then that all of us realized that any pre conception of times we would like to finish in should be forgotten about, and completion is what we should be aiming for.

We had a show of hands and the majority agreed that the start time should be moved forward, it wasn’t until the race was underway, that decision was probably the most significant decision that we all made over those three days.

The Race

With the amended start time of 08.00, I was up at 05.30 to have breakfast; this consisted of the obligatory porridge brought to me by mum! This was the start of a long day not just for me but her also, a banana and a cup coffee.

The swim was always going to be my weakest of the three disciplines; the laps in the lake were approx 300mtr long so my plan was to have a feed every third lap, during this feed I alternated between having water/high5 and then a hot drink, weak soup/coffee. The soup was probably the best idea I had all weekend as it left a warm feeling in my stomach, although everyone says don’t do anything you haven’t tried in training I had to give myself the best start to get to the finish line. This strategy worked well and gave me something to focus on 1 lap 2 lap 3 lap feed. The lap counters were also doing a great job of keeping you motivated as you called out your number to them.

I was lapped twice by two of the athletes and I couldn’t help but think to myself they were motoring but then I remembered what someone had said to me “take the swim easy the race is not won during the swim”, although at that stage winning had never even crossed my mind. I wouldn’t say that I took or found the swim easy, but surprised to finish in 4 hrs 6 mins and felt strong.

There was a 400 metre walk from the lake up to the timing mat and into the tent area where I was able to think about target number 2! My mum, formed my support crew as my wife was preparing for an exam, she was due to arrive at Avon Tyrell on the Sunday. In the tent Gareth (The Red One) was also there watching and learning, he was about to have a baptism of fire on Saturday when he was about to start the Double and his first Triathlon!! In the tent had I something warm to eat and got myself dressed to start the bike, going against what I’ve always been told “start cold and get warm” I wrapped up.

The weather was overcast and I was feeling fairly cold at this point, I started with three layers on, a buff around my neck and a buff under my helmet, I didn’t take any of those layers off throughout the bike just added to them!

The bike consisted of 29 laps of left turns, hills and two cattle grids. Again my strategy was to take the first 5 laps very conservatively to find my cycling legs then try and maintain a consistent pace; I decided I would stop at the end of every 2nd lap to re-fuel with food and drink, cycling on the first day went by without any worries and I felt in control I knew that I wasn’t pushing myself too hard.

I did a lap with Tony Raynor one of the guys who was left in the Deca at some stage during that day, I say some stage because I don’t have any recollection of any timing and couldn’t have told you what time of day it was. When I got back to race centre my mum said that was a fast lap apparently I had completed it in 43 mins, I blamed it on Tony and thought to myself well that felt comfortable so I must be conserving enough energy. On each 2nd lap I refuelled my top tube bag with goodies to keep me going, Haribo and marsh mellows were my favourites!! My mum was doing a great job of asking me what I fancied when I came into the centre or what I wanted prepared for the next stop.

Before I knew it the race directors were telling all the cyclists to put there lights and high-viz vests on, at this stage I had probably been out on the bike for 8 hours. I stuck to my game plan as much as I could spinning the legs on the hills, and flats and free wheeling as much I could on the downhill’s. I just remember thinking every 2 laps I was going to get a reward and that’s what kept me going, at about 1 am my dad said to me that I should really think about getting my head down for a bit, this didn’t seem right at the time so went out for another lap, and then another, those laps were a struggle, and the timings dropped significantly.

I got off my bike handed it to my dad who was at the race centre got into a sleeping bag. My dad said he would wake me in half an hour and no longer. As soon as my head hit the floor I was getting woken up again, I think I did say to him “that can’t be half an hour” I woke up and felt groggy, cold and fed up, deep down I was thinking why did I do that but my mum and dad said I needed to get out on the bike again, I was cold and that first lap went on forever I remember trying to cover up every part of body with the clothes I had on, I took my fingers out of the gloves and crunched them up together inside the gloves, this became a problem when I had to change gear or break but I just wanted the cold to stop.

That first lap was probably rock bottom for me. It passed though and eventually daybreak came and with it revitalisation like I had experienced on Lanzarote, it was surreal how the darkness can effect your mood and tolerance levels. I was eating away at the miles and knew that I could complete the bike, coming through Burley I got a puncture, to be expected doing that amount of mileage and in those conditions so I then proceeded to change it, now before the race I was looking at my tyres and thought they could do with being replaced but I hadn’t had a puncture in the two years that I had the bike so I really didn’t want to tempt fate! Whilst fixing this puncture every single athlete that went past asked if I was ok, this was reassuring because I knew if it was more serious every single athlete would have put there race on hold, as it was I needed the help of two athletes later on, both Triplers, Matt and Nick I thank you for providing CO2 and a spare inner tube as I ended up getting two more punctures in two laps.

I couldn’t believe my luck as I only had 5 more laps to do coming out of Burley again and hanging a left into the forest I had a blowout, it sounded like a shot gun going off and scared the crap out of me, it took me a minute to realize what it was, that minute was too late as once I stopped and inspected the tyre it had been shredded and the rim damaged.

I phoned my dad on his mobile and before I knew it Andy Kemp (deca) had come out in his car with a new tyre which we fitted, I also then received a phone call to say Mum and Jacqui (Mrs Dave M) were bringing Steve’s Litespeed out for me to use!! I didn’t trust my bike not to get a puncture again so I adjusted the saddle on Steve’s bike and cracked on.

With 4 laps to do and having only done two laps in about three hours I started thinking about how long I was going to be out on the bike for, negative thoughts for probably only the 2nd time so far, not bad but not ideal. The rest of the bike went by and eventually I was told last lap, 28 hours out on the bike, long enough!

Run

Trainers were put on at race centre I then walked around the turning circle and up to the shower area, this had been my plan, have a nice hot shower, freshen up put some clean clothes on ready for the anticipated 24 hours that I had in my mind I may be running for.

Running has always been enjoyable for me, having seen the route the previous week and seeing TC be so successful in his walk / run strategy in previous events I knew that this is what I would need to do, I’ve never practiced this in training but do remember when I completed the Grand Union Canal in 2006 one of the competitors told me that to finish you needed to walk the hills and run the flats and downhills, I did that and I finished.

So lap one, walk hard from the start up every hill and open the legs up on the down hills and flats I got into a rhythm and before I knew it I had knocked out 20 laps, I got told that I was in 2nd Place, and Chris Edgely was behind me, my dad said I needed to keep doing what I was doing but to remember Chris was two laps behind me “he’s running and he can run” great, fill me with confidence! I asked my dad who was in front and he said Nick Thomas by about 6 laps I think, I met Nick whilst on Lanzarote and he did a two hour quicker run time than me so I just presumed that he would continue to run strong, I thought if I could carry on I would be over the moon with 2nd place.

I can’t recall much about the run I remember getting to 43 miles/laps and totally losing my concentration, deep down I knew that I was able to finish but when that would be I didn’t know, for some reason I lost sight of the Goal, completion. I found myself stopping at the lake and watching two of my work colleagues taking part in the single, and then having a chat with various people on the course. I did this for two laps and got to 45, something then clicked it was approx 5.45am I started asking myself whether I could get to 52 by 8am then finish by 2pm?? I think it was during this period I got told Nick had gone to his tent for a rest, I wondered how many laps I could make up, I worked hard on every lap every time expecting to be told that Nick was back on the course.
I didn’t like the situation I was putting myself in, added pressure, I was racing a Triple Ironman, that was never meant to be the case, yes compete against yourself but over that distance competing against another was destructive and I don’t know if I was entirely happy with that situation. It had been raining for sometime now, the course was getting harder, I knew Sam, my wife was meant to be coming down with Gareth’s girlfriend today with their baby, I asked my mum to phone Sam and tell her that conditions weren’t suitable for them so as much as I wanted to see them it was probably best they didn’t come down, I didn’t think much about that again.

Nick was out on the course and I believe at that time I was two laps in front off him, the game plan was then too see if I could hold onto the lead, Nick was in front if I could just keep a visual on him around the laps I knew he would have to be working incredibly hard to put two laps into me and this is how it went! Nick and I even ran side by side on some of the laps, we tried to break each other by turning the corner then carry on running up the hill to make some distance between each other.

I turned into the race centre at some stage in the morning and saw Sam there, probably not the welcome she wanted but all I could say is “what are you doing here?” She said she was proud of me and that I was doing really well and just to carry on doing what I do. And before I knew it I was being told “last lap”, I had done it, at that point I just felt relief that I didn’t have to worry about Nick catching me now, did I enjoy the last lap, I don’t know the answer to that question.

The Aftermath.

Winning hasn’t sunk in yet and I don’t know when it will do, this event was all about completion and one’s own personal battle. Mentally I’m in a good place; I would like to think I can give the Deca a go next year but next year is next year a lot can happen between now and then. One thing for certain is that completing the Triple has made me a better person and I would like to thank Steve and Dad for giving me the opportunity to take part in something so special.