Epicman Windermere by Darren Horrocks.
The day started by parking up in a field of sheep and sheep shit, and I noticed a lot of “run route” signs in the field, which I dismissed as “these are spare signs they are using to direct spectators to the actual run route”, I was wrong, but more on that later.
I unloaded my bike and my bag, and walked up to transition and got everything ready, and then had a lot of time to think about how badly the swim was going to go, because I really hate swimming, it sucks, for me, there is nothing worse than having to swim to start a bike/run race. What makes swimming to the start of a bike ride even worse, is swimming to the start of a swim, those words “deep water start”, are some of the worst words I know.
Despite that, the swim start to EpicMan Windermere was by far the easiest and least problematic part of the day. I swam out to the start and slowly swam in circles (I cannot tread water) for a few minutes to wait for my wave to start, and then off we went. The swim was a simple out, turn and back, very little sighting to do, so I just got on with it. I don’t know why I was so worried about the swim, I kept up with the back of my wave, and ended up getting out not-last.
Then came what I thought was going to be the easy bit, how wrong I was. I knew that 56 miles on the bike wasn’t going to be easy, but I didn’t know that it was going to be so hard. Just short of 6000ft of elevation according to my watch. 56 miles, and 6000ft in the wind, and, the biggest climb was the start of the loop, a loop I had to do twice. After completing the first loop, that seemingly went on forever, I knew I had it all to do again. Half way up the first climb of the second loop is the first time my head went, and I had decided I was going to go until I couldn’t turn my pedals, then get off and give up, today wasn’t my day. But I just managed to get to the top of 1.8km 10% average climb, and roll down the other side, and that was just how the next hour went, climb after climb, convincing myself I was done, and then thinking “it wasn’t that bad”.
That was until I had 5km left on the bike, and I noticed a mountain in front of me, and not a flat landscape that took me to a lake, I looked left, I looked right, the mountain stretched off beyond 5km in both directions, and then it dawned “im going over this aren’t I”. I followed the road, and a group of cyclists on a club ride ended up behind me. I turned a corner, and saw a 1km long 15% climb in front of me, and “ohh for f**ks sake” just fell out of my mouth, which was met by a lot of laughter and agreement from the club riders.
When I eventually got back to T2, my back, as well as my head had gone, I couldn’t really stand up straight or put weight on my left leg, because my back wasn’t there to support it under me. I used T2 to slowly change my shoes over and stretch off and felt slightly less terrible, so went off onto the run.
The run was 4 laps of a 5.3km course, an undulating trail course through fields, forest paths, up and down rocky climbs, and about half way round, through the sheep-shit field. At the end of the first lap, I was done, I had nothing left, I only continued onto the 2nd lap because I knew that not far into the lap, that is where the toilets where. I thought I would just carry on to the toilet and then walk back and tap out. But, from nowhere after going to the toilet, everything sort of came back to me, I had enough energy, and got rid of enough pain to be able to run the flats and down hill, and walk up hill. So I decided to carry on, and immediately caught my foot on a rock, which immediately went numb, and I thought I had broke it. It didn’t hurt to walk or run on it (that came later), so I continued. The only thing to get me round the next few laps was knowing that every time I ran past the start/finish line, my kids were waiting and shouting and wanting me to finish. I hobbled through and got to the end, in what was the toughest 7 hours and 59 minutes I have endured.
I was told during the run from another athlete, “I have done a few of these, this is the toughest one I have ever done, not only that, this is one of the toughest half marathons I have ever done, and would be on its own”. Which was later backed up by a few other people making similar comments. So while I was annoyed at not hitting the 6 hours I was initially aiming for, the day was a very tough day, and people who do this every week said it was tough too and I made it.
The lesson I have learned is, research the course next time, don’t pick one of the hardest races there are as your first one just because it’s the nearest and my head is stronger than I thought it was.