Duncan Shea-Simonds reports…
“I’d earmarked this event as offering something a little different and a chance to experience the type of terrain I’m likely to experience in my SwimRun race later in the year. With Claire racing the Outlaw Half the following weekend, I was on me’ tod – so on Saturday afternoon “Billy no mates” packed up the T5 and headed to North Wales.
The Slateman starts with a 1000m swim in the frigid waters of Llyn Padarn. Never much above 12 degrees in May and often much colder, previous years had seen the course shortened due to the cold. The 50k bike tests the legs with an early climb up the Llanberis Pass while the rest of the route offers some fabulous high speed sections and amazing scenery. The event culminates with a challenging 11k trail run, including the infamous “zig-zag” climb through the Dinorwig slate quarries and some fabulous, technical wooded trails.
My journey up featured some pretty biblical weather but race day dawned promisingly with blue skies and even some sunshine. Once into transition I tried to ignore the few depressing drops of rain that were now falling from the sky.
“Passing shower” I thought…
20 minutes later, with menacing grey skies and most of my kit now soaking wet, even my optimism for a dry day was waning. So with about 20 minutes to go until my start I thought I’d be better off in my wetsuit so began getting myself ready for the icy plunge!
With the start a few minutes away, the rain was now looking pretty set in. I’d deliberated for some time on what to wear for the bike. I figured that I’d give myself some options and so left both a gilet and arm warmers in transition.
The start was a 400m walk away so I joined the throng of athletes heading down to the water’s edge. The deep water start was calm and spacious and the course had been confirmed at the full 1000m. Most had opted to crowd the left most buoy marking the start. Never one to follow the crowds, I felt the right most buoy offered a better line to the first turn. Getting beaten up in cold water is not something I particularly relish, so I was glad to find some clear water before the off.
Looking back at the gloomy faces behind me I struggled to believe that we were all here voluntarily! The starter attempted to raise our spirits with a few reluctant rounds of “Oggy, oggy, oggy”.
Nice try….Just blow the bloody hooter man!!
Moments later we were set on our way. I decided to grasp this swim by the horns and set of at a solid pace. By the first turn buoy though, the cold had started to take hold and my stroke went to pot. I felt the blood flow to arms ebbing and my breathing had become short and laboured. Every time I turned to gasp I got a gob full of water. I’m amazed the rescue canoes didn’t come to my aid because at times I must have looked like I was drowning! So no, not my finest 18 minutes and 47 seconds, but none the less glad to get my weakest discipline out of the way.
Out of the water and the red mist descended as I sprinted to my bike. My attempts to race though T1 were soon thwarted once I realised I couldn’t command my digits. Cue what seemed like an eternity fumbling with wetsuit and helmet strap.
Gilet? Arm Warmers? No time for those (a decision I’d later regret) I had work to do! I ran with bike across the soggy transition area, leapt astride and put the hammer down, weaving as if drunk as my head spun with the cold.
Getting my feet into my shoes proved to be another monumental task. I jabbed my frozen toes everywhere but the actual opening as I continued in my futile attempts to get shod. Moments later I was passed by one particularly enraged competitor in a cloud of expletives… commenting aggressively on my amateurish fumblings. I suppose he had a fair point but seriously dude… my pinkies are a tad chilly!
Fearful of losing a shoe, I finally pulled over to get the job done properly.
Feet locked in, I powered up the road in pursuit of Mr Angry.
I think my adrenalin must have spiked because for the next 20 minutes I hauled ass. Passing rider after rider as the road started rearing up the pass. Once again the bike legs were delivering. I was happy to power the early miles as I was desperate to generate a bit of warmth in my limbs. The main climb was soon dispatched and once the flurry of athletes I was passing started to ebb, I settled into a fairly lonely vigil for the rest of the ride.
The views on parts of the course were quite breathtaking and served as a welcome distraction from the creeping cold that was returning to my limbs. The high speed descents, while immense “fun” (in a life threatening kinda way) also caused my body temperature to plunge. Before long, my teeth were starting to chatter and limbs shake…. what I wouldn’t do for that gilet now!
With 10 miles to go… though I knew I’d make it to T2 with my internal organs still functioning, I started longing for the run and it’s inevitable warming effects.
I passed a pack of 3 guys in a highly dubious pace line. They received the stare of death before being left in my wake to wallow in their own self pity.
I arrived in T2 with the 5th fastest ride of the day – good enough to move me up into the top 10. A tardy transition ensued as, once again, my hands and fingers refused to co-operate. Heading out on the run my legs felt pretty good. A flat fist kilometre allowed some feeling to return before the challenge that gives this event it’s name. The zig-zag climb up through Dinorwig slate quarry.
To add a little more excitement to run leg all competitors were timed up the ascent to contest the “Quarry-man challenge”. Keen to keep my powder dry, ok, damp…. I decided to pace the climb cautiously. 10 minutes 27 seconds later I was pointing downhill and enjoying some faster running. The remainder of the run featured some fantastic, technical wooded trails. However, the slate underfoot had become like ice meaning speed had to be kept in check and awareness ramped up to the max.
I lost a few places to faster / braver / crazier runners, but I was now on borrowed time and metering out my dwindling energy reserves with caution. A few more cheeky climbs were thrown in for good measure, before the final few downhill miles to the finish.
I had run the closing miles the day before so knew I had a steady Tarmac downhill and flat grassy section to the finish line. I had a fellow competitor in my sights. He looked my kinda age and looked like he was struggling. Inside the last mile I’d caught him, but stayed a few meters behind to rally myself for my final effort.
With 400m to go I went for it, giving it everything. I surged… my opponent offered some resistance. His supporters cheered frantically, which only served to spur me on. I opened a gap and didn’t look back. In the end it came down to 9 seconds, decisive as it transpired since we were racing, unbeknownst, for the final podium spot in the MV40 category.
Typically, once the racing was over, the sun appeared. I enjoyed a few hours chatting with friends and re-living the race in all it’s detail. The swim had been disappointing for sure. Something about the cold water doesn’t agree with me, but I had been chuffed with both my bike and run.
The Giant Trinity continues to impress – the faster it goes… the better it feels!
I fuelled myself with USN Epic Pro, and Vooma Gels – they always hit the spot.
Thanks also to Racetime Events, Zone 3 Wetsuits, Skechers Footware and FFWD Wheels. The kit performed faultlessly”.