Was entering the Dragon’s Back Race a genius idea? Or total madness?

[stag_intro]Every ultra runner has a moment of madness, normally the point at which they enter some ridiculous sounding race that promises misery, blisters, injury and at worse, possible death. Despite having done numerous ultras across deserts, jungles and mountain ranges, my biggest folly was entering the 3rd edition of the Dragon’s Back Race. Here are a few thoughts running through my mind one month before the race starts on 22 June, 2015. [/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]

DBR_logoWhat have I let myself in for?

A couple of weeks ago, I was midway through the Transvulcania ultra, another ridiculous race, but somewhere a lot sunnier than Wales – La Palma. My body was feeling pretty battered, the sun was beating down on my head, I had very little water left and I began to think about the Dragon’s Back Race. They weren’t good thoughts! ‘What was I thinking?’, I said to myself. Why do I do these silly races? Why don’t I just do park runs or sprint triathlons. Why do I have to choose a race that will put me so far out of my comfort zone, I’ll barely know my own name! Hell, Day 3 of the race is on my birthday – much to my wife’s irritation. At that very moment, I was on the verge of pulling out of the Dragon’s Back.

By the time I finished Transvulcania, some 13hrs 55 mins after I’d started that morning, I decided that I’d still do the Dragon’s Back. Because if I pulled out of the race, I’d only regret it. It would gnaw away at me as unfinished business.

‘Can I navigate?’

On telling people I’m doing the Dragon’s Back Race, the first question I normally get asked is ‘Can you navigate?’  It’s a good question and one that I normally answer with a positive ‘Yes’. But I sometimes wonder if I’m kidding myself.

Before meeting my wife, who has no faith in my ability to read a map, I’d always thought of myself as an OK navigator. Five and a half years regular service in the army, numerous orienteering races, adventure races and even doing the Mountain Leader Training (Summer) course – I’d learnt how to use a map and compass.

SatMap_Active12But after doing a Bob Graham Round attempt/recce last summer, I remembered what a true skill the art of navigation is – especially when it’s bad weather and there’s poor visibility. Which is why I contacted SatMap and asked if I could borrow one of their Active 12 GPS devices for a few months, along with their 1:25000 maps of Wales.

self-sufficiency, an un-marked course require navigation, tough terrain, series amounts of climbing and descending – these are the elements that make the Dragon’s Back special. And until 2015, GPS units weren’t allowed. But after two-thirds of the field failed to complete Day 1 of the 2012 race, Shane Ohly, the race director, decided to allow competitors to use GPS to those whose navigational skills are not quite as good as their running:

“Competitors should ideally be capable of navigating in poor weather conditions using a map and compass. However, competitors may also carry a GPS to help their navigation. Competitors can load checkpoint grid references (or any other location) into their GPS but no route information will be supplied.”

And although I’ll be aiming to use my map and compass as my primary means of navigation, it’s reassuring to have the backup of the Active12!

Am I fit enough to run the Dragon’s Back?

On most days of the week I can run a sub 3-hr marathon. I can run ultras on next to no training. I even cycled the length of Britain in 9 days,  despite having only been on my bike a handful of occasions that year.

But this is different. Ideally, I’d have been chasing chickens around the top of Mount Snowdon, conditioning my body to the battering it’s going to take.  Sadly, living in London isn’t the ideal training ground for running across mountains – with 17,000m of ascent.

Although I’ve managed to do at least 1000m of ascent a week, thanks to various races such as Ecotrail de Paris 80k, Madeira Island Ultra Trail 115k and Transvulcania 73k, and a lot of running around Box Hill in the Surrey Hills.

I’ve also had some excellent coaching from Andy Bruce, who wrote a helpful piece on Hard as Trails on how to train for the Dragon’s Back. So in theory, I should be ready!

Have I got all the kit I need?

The list of kit you need for the Dragon’s Back reads like a shopping list:

•    Waterproof Jacket or Smock (with taped seams and a hood)
•    Waterproof Trousers (with taped seams)
•    Survival bag (not a blanket)
•    Map (supplied) and compass
•    Headtorch with spare batteries (with sufficient light to be able to navigate in the darkness)
•    Whistle
•    Sufficient food
•    Spare warm top (spare means unworn at the start)
•    Hat and gloves suitable for the weather conditions
•    Water bottle and / or hydration system
•    Fell or mountain running shoes (road trainers are NOT acceptable)
•    Money (at least £50 in case you need to get a taxi to the overnight camp)
•    Waterproof pen/pencil/chinagraph writing implement

And that’s just the stuff you must take with you, rather than the additional recommend kit, such as GPS, phone and altimeter.

Trying to work out what shoes are best for running through the mountains for 5 days on the trot, what backpack to take and how big, what my hydration system would be, what food to take, whether to use poles or not – these are all things I’ve been having to think about (as will every other DBR entrant).

RaceUltra 5I’ve solicited the support of Inov8 who’ve kindly supplied me with the best kit for the job. For a pack, I’ll be using their Race Ultra 5 pack (or the Race Elite 16) if I need to carry a little extra kit. They’re both super comfortable and use the soft flasks that I’ve come to be a fan of.

Mountain running shoe wise, I’m probably going to be using a combination of the Inov8 Roclite 295s (which I used in Transvulcania) and the X-Talon 212s. I’ll swap according to the terrain. However, I’m hoping to get my hands on the new Terraclaw 250s, which might be the perfect compromise.

What’s more important – completing or competing?

In the past, I used to be a lot more competitive. Not finishing in the top 1% of the field wasn’t an option. But nowadays, as I get older and winning becomes less important, I’ve not been in such a rush to get to the podium – nice thought it is. I’ve actually quite enjoyed being able to stop and take a photo, or sort out my feet without worrying about time or losing positions.

And I don’t think this race will be any exception. There are some strong athletes taking part this year, such as Jez Bragg and the previous winner, Steve Birkinshaw, many possessing a combination of strong navigation, experience on the hills and high levels of fitness  – meaning they’ll be in a different league.

But hey, I’ve long-held the opinion that the less time on your feet the better. So providing I don’t get lost – I’ll not be mincing about the place smelling the flowers. Although I’ll definitely be taking a few photos!

All said and done, I’m under no illusions how tough this race will be. I feel as though I’ve been training for the past 10 years for it. The 200 odd races I’ve done have been a build up to this moment. And then I also remember, that it’s sometimes good to be afraid – it’ll stop me getting complacent!

  1. Tobias, you re an inspiration buddy. You are following your dream and I know this challenge will be up there in your list of top lifetime achievements. You mastered First/worst Encounter and this will be no exception. I look forward to the next article.

      1. Well I remember you managing 50 km in 24 hours carrying 25kg, in the black mountains, interspersed with arduous command tasks in hideous weather… All without a GPS…. And you were a whippersnapper then….. In short yes!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]The Etapa de la Vuelta was the sportive that never was. ASO, the organisation behind the Tour de France and La Vuelta, had hoped to emulated the extremely successful L’Etape du Tour in France with a Spanish version. So back in 2012, I was invited to take part in this inaugural race that ended up seeing me ride 120 miles and 6000m of ascent (including three Cat 3 climbs and a Cat 1). Sadly, the race never quite materialised into the success of the French version.[/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]

Ignorance is bliss

“So where are you off to this time?” asks my flatmate Rhi, looking up from his computer to watch with amusement as I dismantle my bike and attempt (unsuccessfully) to squeeze it into a borrowed Bike Box Alan.

“Asturias. Northern Spain. I’m reviewing the L’Etape de la Vuelta for Cycling Plus”,  I reply distracted by the fact that the tires weren’t fitting into their designated space in the box.   A keen cyclist himself, he had previously ridden in the Pyrenees and the Alps, his attention returns to his computer.  He Etapa de la VueltaF9227Googles the race and a few minutes later, I hear a series of whistling sounds.

“Bloody hell mate!” he exclaims, “You’re not only cycling 180kms, but it’s got three Cat 1 climbs and it says here, the last 3k averages at 17%.”

He whistles a few more times and then chuckles to himself,  “I hope you’ve got a compact chain set!’  I solemnly shake my head, as he looks at me with surprise.  “You are going to be in a whole world of pain, my friend!”  he says to me, still chuckling as he wanders off to get a cup of tea.  This is only my second sportive.  I’m already wondering what I’ve let myself in for…

L’Etape du Tour/ de la Vuelta

Stage 16 of the Vuelta

La Vuelta a España, for the uninitiated amongst us, is the Spanish version of the Tour de France.  It starts about 5 weeks after the Tour and is known for it’s frenetic pace and tough mountain stages.  ASO, the organisers of the Tour de France and the hugely successful L’Etape du Tour Mondovelo sportive that mimics one of its stages, decided it was time to recreate this formula in Spain’s oldest and most prestigious bike race.

Etapa de la Vuelta-registrationJust like it’s French cousin, L’Etape de la Vuelta is a traveling race, with the route changing each year, thereby allowing cycling enthusiasts to experience first hand what the pros will go through before they race it a week or so later.  For their first edition, they had chosen Stage 16 – the ‘queen stage’ of the Vuelta a Espana.   It would all begin on Friday evening in Gijon, the ancient seaport nestled on the north coast of Spain, in the autonomous Principality of Asturias.

However, just like the French version, you need to plan how you’re going to get there, a logistical exercise in itself.  Being an A-B race, you needed to rent a car which you then drove to the finish in Valgrande-Parajes, before getting a shuttle back to Gijon.  Then you needed to register – a surprisingly unceremonious affair, comprising a rickety gazebo and a few members of staff from ASO.   With none of the fanfare and distractions of a big expo selling kit you don’t need, there was not much to do except collect a couple of bib numbers for your shirt and bike.

Starting the day right

Someone wise once said that ‘happiness lies in a leisurely breakfast’.  That would be wishful thinking, because on descending for breakfast at 6.30 am on Saturday morning, I found myself starting blankly at a row of empty tables, as it appeared the hotel didn’t start serving breakfast until 7 a.m, despite having been forewarned of my early departure.

Unfortunately, there appeared to be a touch of ‘manaña’ about these early morning arrangements and with a rumbling stomach, I felt a slight sense of despair.  However, a kindly Spaniard who looked vaguely familiar, took pity on me and offered a bread roll that he’d found – hopefully not on the floor. I gratefully gobbled it down before rushing out of the hotel to make my way to the start area.

Joining the peloton

One or two wrong turns later, I arrived with 15 minutes to spare, collecting my bib number before joining the back of several hundred resplendent Spanish cyclists, who could quite easily have been competitors from the Vuelta itself.   With their bronzed legs freshly shaven and sporting their favourite jerseys, they were chatting animatedly about the fact that their compatriot, idol and five-time Tour de France winner, Miguel Indurain, was apparently in our midst.  Guessing that he must be at the front, I resigned myself to the fact that the odds of me catching up with him were slim to none.

After a delayed start (no surprise there – this is Spain after all!) we stayed as one peloton for the first 10 kms, thanks to a police escort that kept the roads clear for us.  Indeed, I was  a little surprised, though quietly relieved that we weren’t going more quickly, but I later discovered this was because no one wanted to overtake ‘Big Mig’ who was holding court at the front!

Etapa de la Vuelta_5249

Starting the first 50 kilometers

The first 50 kilometers passed in a blur, as we became lulled into a false sense of security, forgetting what lay in store for us and secretly hoping it wouldn’t be as bad as we imagined.  There had been a bit of a nip in the air early in morning, and shortly before we hit the first official Cat 3 climb of La Cabruaña at about 9am, people started shedding arm warmers and gilets as though they had just passed through a leper colony.

Despite thinking that this would have been a good opportunity to stop for a quick comfort break, I stubbornly pushed on, hoping the pain in my bladder would pass.  A little while later, as the peloton started to reform, I was overtaken by the Spaniard from breakfast who’d kindly given me his spare roll.   Encouraging him on with a ‘venga venga’ of my own, I resisted the urge of chasing after him.  After all, I said to myself, I still had a long way to go.


Take nothing for granted!  

Having eventually succumbed to nature’s calling, a moment that lasted all of 30 seconds, I subsequently spent almost an hour trying to rejoin the peloton.  Picking up a few stragglers along the way, we eventually caught up, only for the peloton to come to a sudden halt a few minutes later at the first food stop, 80kms in.  Unbelievably, we were almost half way there…

Scrambling to fill my empty water bottle from the tiny food stand, whilst over a hundred other cyclists tried to do the same, was more of a challenge than catching up with them.    Replenished and with bananas sticking ungraciously out of our mouths we quickly jumped back on our bikes, forming another small peloton as we headed towards the first big Cat 1 of the day – Puerto de San Lorenzo.

We were making surprisingly good time.  But as the altimeter on my watch approached 500m I knew the easy bit was about to end.   As though on cue, our reverie was broken by the sound of a beep as we turned a corner, simultaneously passing over a timing mat.  There was an immediate grinding of gears and the odd grunt or two as we began a 10km long climb that would average out at 8.5%.

Miguel Indurain looking pretty relaxed

Although it took a little over an hour, it felt like an eternity, as my legs became strangely putty-like.  One, two, three… I counted to myself on each turn of the pedal, trying to distract myself from the pain coursing through my legs as the climb got steeper and steeper, marked by road signs that said 17%.  Rhi’s words were coming back to haunt me, as the people I had worked so hard to stay ahead of, slowly but surely overtook me.

At the point I felt like as if I was coming to a standstill, I eventually decided to stop for a rest and walk for a few minutes.  The horror of not having a compact chainset and only 12-25T cassette had well and truly sunk in.  I’m only half way up the climb and the thought of doing another two of these was not filling me delight.

Apprehension sets in

Once I had reached the top of San Lorenzo, I tried to take comfort in enjoying the descent, where at several points I reached a dizzying 50mp/h.  But any reprieve was short lived, as we plunged almost immediately into the next long climb of La Cobertoria, in what felt like a painful reenactment of the previous ascent.  This one was similarly steep, with 692m of climbing squeezed within 8kms.

‘I had quickly developed a survival method of walking for 1 minute and then trying to catch up a pair of riders that I’d been repeatedly overtaking.’

I was beginning to get looks of concern from some of the other riders.  When I told them what my gear ratio was, they looked at me with disbelief, unable to comprehend how I had managed to get even this far.   However, I had quickly developed a survival method of walking for 1 minute and then trying to catch up a pair of riders that I’d been repeatedly overtaking.  As soon as I drew level with them, I’d get off my bike and walk another minute, only to then catch them again once back on my bike.

This method of walk/cycle took another 50 minutes for me to cover the 8kms to the the summit of 1182m high La Cobertoria.  A weary glance at my watch told me that I had been in the saddle for a total of over 6 hrs and yet still had almost 50 kilometers to go.

Another terrifying descent, where I dropped 1000m in height in the space of 8 minutes, ended abruptly with another wall.   This time it marked the beginning of the ultimate 20km climb to the ski station of Valgrande-Parajes, averaging out at 6.9%.  If I’d been told that it would take would another 3 hours to cover, I would have eaten my helmet.

Wearing out my socks

‘I bet Contatodor won’t be walking up here’, I wearily said to myself out loud, as I imagined the Spaniard, just over a week from now, idiosyncratically bouncing up this ridiculously steep mountain, hopefully being chased by Chris Frome.

When I finally crossed the timing mat at Valgrande-Parajes, with only Cuitu Negru left to conquer, I wasn’t sure if I my body was going to allow me to go any further.   But having come this far, there was no way I was going to let a measly 3kms stand in my way.  Even if I have to walk.

15 minutes later, I look down at the ground beneath my socks and see that someone had kindly written in graffiti – ‘24%’ followed a few meters further on by, ‘Duro – muy, muy, muy, muy, muy.‘  It’s almost impossible to describe what goes through your mind on the final climb to the summit finish of Cuitu Negru.  It is ridiculously hard, even walking up in your socks.

Miguel Indurain and Tobais Mews
What the heck, might as well get a photo with Miguel!

All of a sudden I’m brought out of my reverie by a Spanish cyclist, encouraging me on by  shouting ‘Venga! ¡Venga!’ as he hurtles past me.  Before I could mutter so much as a ‘Gracias’ in response, another rider flew past, cheering me on, ‘Animo! Que ya falta poco para llegar!’  Spurred on by their words of encouragement, I jump back on my bike for the final 50m to cross the finish line in nine hours and 9 minutes.

A little while later, having managed to recover some of my sense of humor, I catch a glimpse of the the kind Spaniard from breakfast, having his photo taken with a bunch of people.  I ask a passer by who he was.  ‘Why don’t you  know? That’s Miguel Indurain of course!‘  Bugger!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]Getting up at 4am on a bank holiday Sunday is probably most people’s idea of hell.  However when my alarm clock went off alerting me it was still dark, I had an excited yet nervous energy in tackling a not-your average kind of sportive cycle ride. My friend Charly (Roberge) and I were about to take on the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride – 140km ride with a cheeky 2,600 metres of climbing.[/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]

‘Normal’ people at this time in the morning were outside of the hotel in Leeds city centre, wanting to pile into bars to watch the boxing!  It was quite a surreal experience putting the bikes on the car roof rack and rolling into the Maserati hospitality tent which had every kind of breakfast going.  It was grey and gloomy outside and the atmosphere was rather quiet as everyone faffed with bike bits, pinning their number on their jerseys and wondering whether they had enough energy bars on them to keep their legs peddling over the long distance.


There was a slight apprehension, which I think that was due to the weather forecast the night before, as there were two droplets of rain on the BBC website, which usually means heavy downpours (not ideal conditions for a 7 plus hours ride). Inside the tent,  a TV showed  the David Millar footage of the climbs, which included a 25% gradient hills (Cote de Goose) and a 6km long slog (10 -12% gradient) which was Hebden Bridge (Cote de Cow and Calf) to finish things off.

As we waited in starting pen for the 6.30 wave – the first of the day – Charly and I were fuelled up and ready for the off. At this point there wasn’t much sight of the wet stuff yet, it was pretty cold at just 6 degrees C and I was regretting not packing my winter jacket with its cosy thermal inner layer.  The first mini climb out of Roundhay Park in Leeds saw groups of cyclists start to speed up. The atmosphere amongst many of the riders was slightly eerie, which meant they weren’t up for a social ride.  It was more a case of eyes down and getting the job done as quickly as possible, before the potentially horrendous conditions hit us.

Rachel pretending she’s got a new car!

At around 7am the rain started and it was like what I refer to as ‘sheet rain’ and this was the type of rain that just gets you soaked to the skin almost immediately.  At this point I gobbled a Soreen bar to help pick up the morale which had already started to drop!  Feeling this wet so early on in the sportive was a concern and I decided eating something every 20 mins was a ‘must do’ activity.  I remember specifically thinking I have no idea how I’m going to be feeling at 100km into the ride – considering how crap I was feeling only 10km into it.

‘The rain in Spain falls mainly on the plain’…and in Yorkshire

Anyway, suffice to say, I got a lot worse and started feeling shivers down my back with the rain somehow reaching every part of my body.  Descending on the bike was really rather scary. The rain was coming so hard, it felt like tiny stones hitting me in the face.  The route was pretty much OK in regards to hills and not too dissimilar to a casual Surrey Hills ride that Charly and I were more accustomed to.  This was of course up until we hit 70k – from that point onwards the route revealed some of the most fantastic (hell raising) hills I’ve seen on a sportive ride.

‘The rain was coming so hard, it felt like tiny stones hitting me in the face.’

Every cloud has a silver lining

The first being Hebden Bridge which was a long 5.5km to be exact, with a 11% gradual increase. It’s one of those annoying climbs that’s just relentless, damaging on your legs and lungs. This climb was also exposed to the countryside and although it could have been a lovely spring day with us smiling looking over the Yorkshire Dales, the reality was that the wind was whistling around the course and made it harder to battle even the most ‘gentle’ of hills.

‘Whilst my quads got tighter and tighter and my heart rate increased to such a level that I could feel it in my throat.’

The second encounter with an upward climb was a much punchier ‘Boy was this going to be a thigh burning one’ – the Cote de Goose.  Staring me in the eye was a 25% gradient of unforgiving tarmac. And although only 1.3km, which might not sound like a long way, the steep gradient meant I wasn’t going to forget it in a hurry.  And nor were my legs.Tour de Yorkshire 140km route

I screeched at Charly that this is a wall of concrete and I wasn’t sure I was actually going to get up it without any kind of assistance from an engine.  Realising I was becoming something of a potty mouth, I was trying desperately not to swear too much nor completely lose my sense of humour, whilst my quads got tighter and tighter and my heart rate increased to such a level that I could feel it in my throat.

It was by far one of the most brutal climbs I’ve experienced and this, coupled with the rain flowing freely under the wheels, was like pedalling through the Amazon.  In fact, it was so steep that we actually saw one guy fall off his bike – I did try to provide some words of encouragement however, since I was in fear of doing the same, I decided to not lose concentration on getting up this ‘God awful’ climb.

Picture by Barry Wilkinson/SWpix.com - 03/05/2015 - Cycling - 2015 Tour de Yorkshire: Stage 3, Wakefield to Leeds - Sir Bradley Wiggins of Team Wiggins makes his way up the Cow and Calf climb in Ilkley during Stage 3.
Sir Bradley Wiggins of Team Wiggins makes his way up the Cow and Calf climb in Ilkley during Stage 3. ©Welcome to Yorkshire

‘Keep going, you can do it!’

Supporters were stood out on the hill, a pained look of concern on their faces, as they watched cyclists huff and puff their way past them.  Thankfully they were more encouraging than my non-existent words and shouted, ‘Keep going,’ or the one my favourite, ‘It’s not that far to the top’ – all the wonderful words you want to hear as you’re busting your gut.

Getting to the top was quite achievement and as a way of trying to encourage my heart rate to resume its normal levels, I took a few deep breaths praying that the climb was the worst we’d experience on the route. (N.B – You could ask why I didn’t look too much into the route before the ride, however my view has always been to enjoy the element of surprise and if you do too much research, then you just fuel the negative mental state of mind in not being able to achieve it at all).

‘Yes, girls can cycle this far too’.

As we passed through some of the most picturesque villages in Dales, our legs beginning to loosen up after the ‘Goose experience’, we were really pleased to see such lovely support from locals.  Some of the comments I seem to remember, ‘Oh wow that’s a girl’.  On those occasions, I was very tempted to respond with a comment like, ‘Yes, girls can cycle this far too’.

But everyone’s smiles and encouragement were well received because often, all you were thinking about was, ‘What in Hell was I doing this for?’  The best part of the whole ride for me was the climb up the cobbles in the village of Ikley. The local supporters were so close to you, cheering you on, giving us a sensation of what it must be like to be in a pro Tour race with people yelling in your ear.  It was really hard at this point to not pedal harder. With people shouting ‘Go on girl’, I really had to grit my teeth and dig deep into those tops of the quads.

100k down, 40 to go

The climbs did not stop there, we still had ‘Cote De Cow and Calf’, another iconic climb from the Grand depart route and with the most impressive level of supporters in such miserable weather.  At a gradient of ‘only’ 17%, the legs were now warming up and seemed to just try to grin and bear it.  At the top we had reached the 100km mark which felt like a real sense of relief knowing that we only had 40k to go – which seemed minor distance at the time.  Moreover, the weather eased off at this point and the body temperature was a couple of degrees warmer which made it more pleasurable despite being soaking wet already!

The feed station was not only just your usual flapjacks and cakes, in true Yorkshire style there was Yorkshire pud with sausage which tasted like the best thing in the world and definitely spurred you on to the finish.

We were 10km from the finish when Charly got a puncture which took us half an hour to change (I blame fatigue). At this point, the course was starting to get congested as all three of the routes joined together, providing a great atmosphere amongst the riders, most of whom were all glad it was nearly over.  After crossing the line in 7hrs20 minutes (our actual riding time was 6.53 according to Garmin), the sun eventually graced us with its presence in time to dry us off.  As we rested our bikes up outside the hospitality tent, looking wearily at each other in bemusement of ‘what just happened there?’, we were greeted by the Maserati crew with smiles and words of congratulations.

One question rings bells after an event like this and when the PR guy said to me, ‘Would you do it again?’ I didn’t really have to think twice as I muttered ‘Abso-bloody-lutely’……

For more information on the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire or to enter next year’s ride, go to their website.

[stag_intro]As a recreational endurance athlete, I love a challenge as much as anyone. However, every now and then, I hear about a race or an event where I just think ‘rather you than me kiddo’. You know, those races that are a bit like space? The ones where you try to comprehend it in its entirety and what that might mean, and all you get is an uncomfortable blend of dread, hopelessness and nausea. Well it’s those sort of races, races like the Dragon’s Back, where I’m glad I can just put my coaches hat on.[/stag_intro]
[stag_divider style=”strong”]
And this is the position in which I find myself, safely cowering behind a spreadsheet with the daunting statistics staring back at me. 5 days. 292 kilometres. 15,655m of elevation.
Dragon's Back Race 2012_Jon Brooke
©Jon Brooke

I can play the numbers game too though. I’ve actually been working with 2 athletes (one of which being Tobias), in the run up to this event. So even if the race kills one of them, another might at least be able to hobble to safety. Joking aside, just in case anyone else was crazy enough to think participating in this race might be a good idea, I’m going to share some of my thoughts on how you might prepare as an athlete for a challenge of this magnitude.In its simplest form, preparing a training plan requires two basic pieces of information:

1) Understand what you have to do (i.e. what the race demands of you)

2) Understand what resources you have to accomplish it (the athlete profile). Once you have that, you can conceptually triangulate, where you are, and where you’ve got to get to. How you get there is up to you!

While appropriately analysing the relative strengths and weaknesses of an athlete is beyond the scope of this article, no matter how you serve this beauty up, the Dragon’s Back course profile creates some sobering statistics. So lets spend some time looking at what requirements might be necessary to slay this beast!

Dragon's Back RouteDay 1 – 49km – 3823m elevation
Day 2 – 54km – 3544m elevation
Day 3 – 68km – 3712m elevation
Day 4 – 64km – 2273m elevation
Day 5 – 57km – 2313m elevation

For a front of the pack runner, even for the most optimistic estimate you are looking at an average of at least 10 hours a day on your feet, quite literally tearing your legs to pieces for 5 consecutive days. Eeep. This is on mountainous terrain, with (very) steep, technical descents. This means a huge volume of eccentric loading through the lower limbs. Unless you are VERY well conditioned to the terrain, you’ll be getting DOMS. On the flat, up to 11x your body weight transfers through your muscles and connective tissues. Downhill running is many many times more than that.

‘Unless you are VERY well conditioned to the terrain, you’ll be getting DOMS!’

To withstand this kind of loading,  you’ll need very high levels of eccentric strength and muscular endurance. Even then, it’ll be almost impossible to escape a caloric deficit, which means negligible recovery. Each day WILL be harder than the last. Tenderised legs = restless sleep = cognitive as well as physical fatigue. This is a one way ticket. Thats before you look at time on feet.

You’ll need to be hugely efficient through your aerobic range to keep going for that long. But even the biggest, most fuel efficient engine in the world is pointless if the chassis is broken. I mentioned the fatigue, so let’s hope you are good at navigating when you are tired. Lets hope you are good at running when you are tired. Drop the ball even for a second, and all that time conditioning yourself to reduce injury risk can be undone by a misplaced foot. This is mountain territory in Wales. Only an idiot will underestimate the weather, which can change in an instant and visibility can plummet. When people are tired, they say and do some stupid things. Proactive personal admin will be vital.

‘Let’s hope you are good at navigating when you are tired.’

To prepare yourself to finish this race, you need to be very strong, very fit, very good at navigating, very organised and have good running technique (under fatigue) over technical terrain. Objectively understanding how you stack up to these requirements may bruise your ego, but is a necessary process to undergo. You don’t want to be found wanting, because in this type of race, its not just your safety that needs consideration. You might well endanger the lives of those that have to come rescue you.

For my two athletes, I have their previous race histories and performances to begin to estimate how they stack up against this monster. Not anyone can just walk into this race, so they certainly aren’t slouches, but for both of them, I am trying to prepare them for one of the most testing weeks of their lives.  Needless to say, I’ve had them in the gym and out on the hills, a lot.

[alert type=red ]Ed: The third edition of the Dragon’s Back Race takes place between Monday 22nd June and Friday 26th. Make sure you subscribe to Hard as Trails to see how I get’s on. [/alert]

In the life of every outdoor fitness junkie, there are days when the whole world looks exciting, interesting, fun and the smile rarely leaves your lips.  No challenge is too great!

However, when you have 948 hard pedalled miles behind you, and you’ve had your ‘man suit of courage’ fully zipped up for over a week, the last thing you need is for your bike chain to break. Especially whilst a force 3 gale whips you in the face during one of the many lung busting climbs in the depths of Cornwall, and to boot, a mere 34 miles from Land’s End on the Deloitte Ride Across Britain (RAB).

But on the other hand, considering what I and my 700 fellow riders have been through over the past 9 days, one broken chain is a small price to pay for the satisfaction of eventually being able to tick off one’s list what is arguably the UK’s premier long distance cycling event.

From one end to another

Indeed, there can’t be many British cyclists who’ve not at some point contemplated the idea of riding between two the extremities of Great Britain – Land’s End and John O’Groats.  Thousands ride it every year and during the summer months, there is a steady stream of pannier laden, weary but determined looking cyclists pedaling furiously into a headwind.

But what makes the RAB different from your standard end-to-end attempt is that it’s fully supported.  That means you don’t have to worry about complex route planning, lugging heavy kit across the country, figuring out where you’re next meal will come from or worrying about where you will sleep each night.  All you need to focus on is riding your bike 100 plus miles a day.  Simple!  Or is it?

‘One-way ticket to Thurso, please’

Booking a one way ticket to Thurso, Great Britain’s most northern train station, is a sobering reminder of just how far away John O’Groats is and more importantly, what I was letting myself in for.  Concluding that I’d probably only go there once, I figured I might as well do it in style, therefore booking a cabin on the Caledonian Sleeper train from London King’s Cross, an experience akin to boarding the Hogwarts Express on platform 9 3/4.

With up to a 1000 tents being erected cheek by jowl, one item that you won’t want to forget on your packing list are ear plugs.  At night it’s a veritable trumpet concerto of farts interspersed with a percussion of snores.

18 hours later, I was in a taxi driving through John O’Groats, once voted ‘Scotland’s most dismal town’ but  famous for a signpost that you’ll have to pay £18 to an entrepreneurial photographer, if you want a photo of yourself next to it.   I was very glad that I wasn’t finishing the ride here.

But luckily, I’d come to stay at the first of 9 base camps.  The base camps that organisers Threshold Sports erect are a sight to be seen.  A sea of tents, massage zones, Halfords bike repair areas, a football pitch sized marquee, ‘Posh Wash showers’, laundry facilities, a medical tent – all of which during the course of a week will take the crew collectively 4,000 hours to put together.

But with up to a 1000 tents being erected cheek by jowl, one item that you won’t want to forget on your packing list are ear plugs.  At night it’s a veritable trumpet concerto of farts interspersed with a percussion of snores.  If you’re lucky enough to sleep through all that, you’ll soon be awoken by an unidentified individual you who has maddeningly set their alarm an hour before the official wake up call of 5.30.

Luckily I am a deep sleeper, but you can imagine my surprise when I awoke on the first morning, removing ear plugs and eye mask – at 7.20 – having slept through what some described as the ‘First night of the Proms’ and missed the 7am start.  By the time I left John O’Groats, the sign had been removed, they’d almost collapsed the start line and the piper who was playing us off, had packed up his pipes!

Snow peaks and lochs

In the evening, we would be briefed on the following day’s route, which would invariably be described with words such as ‘lumpy’ or ‘gritty’.  With 51,180ft of climbing, I’d describe the entire country as lumpy.   But as literary legend, Ernest Hemingway, once said, ‘It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.‘

Collecting midges as I rode through Scotland, I passed in open mouthed wonder at the snow capped peaks, lochs and ancient castles.  I couldn’t agree more with Hemingway, although he might have changed his mind if he’d ridden the route from Glasgow to Carlisle – a stretch of badly paved road that the local council have clearly forgotten to maintain since the Romans visited 2000 years ago!

As the days and miles slipped, the creaks and groans from our bodies starting to match the ones in the bottom brackets of our bikes, everyone quickly fell into the routine of the day:  5.30am wake up, breakfast, pack bag, fill up water bottles, find group to ride with, start riding at 7am, reach new base camp, clean and prep bike, drag bag to tent, book massage appointment, stuff jam sandwich down gob, stretch, massage, shower, wash water bottles, visit bum clinic, eat enormous dinner, a cheeky pint of beer, phone the family, sleep, fart, repeat.

By the middle of the week, we were well and truly in a RAB bubble, oblivious to what was happening in the outside world.  That somehow it was OK for hairy men to strut around in nothing but a pair of bib shorts.  That two sandwiches, a packet of crisps, a banana, 3 chocolates and a packet of jelly babies was an acceptable amount to eat at pitstops, despite having only ridden 40 miles. That  it’s normal to shout out every pot holes, drain cover and oncoming car like someone with Tourette’s syndrome.

But with most people averaging 8-9 hours plus in the saddle each day, there is surprisingly little time to do anything but admin.   ‘You find your time is very quickly taken up with stretching, massage, nutrition’ said 28 year old Patrick Rourke from South Africa.  ‘I can imagine this is the life of an athlete.‘

Which is why I started to have a profound respect for my fellow riders.  They weren’t elite athletes.  Nor adrenaline junkies looking for their next fix.  Many of them weren’t even cyclists – or at least not before they signed up for the event.

Land's end Sign Post Tobias mews

Rather, they were some of the most courageous people I’ve come across.  And the nicest.  Having done plenty of Ironman events where jaws are set in stone as people strut around the place in an aloof air of confidence, on the RAB, you can arrive alone and knowing no one, but leave with 700 friends.  Similar to the French custom of saying ‘Bonjour’ to any random stranger you pass, it would have been rude to not to give a nod of respect as you pass someone.

With Halfords having come to my rescue with a new chain, I rolled into a blustery and wet Land’s End, wind swept, soaking wet, tired but extremely happy.  Despite the physical hardship, I have experienced a sense of camaraderie that I’ve never known before.  But the smile is back on my lips because this was one challenge I’ll never forget!

Written by Tobias Mews and originally published in Outdoor Fitness Magazine

On Saturday 2nd May, HardasTrails contributor and avid cyclist, Rachel Pye, will be heading up to Yorkshire for what might become one of the biggest cycling events in the country: the Tour de Yorkshire Ride.

It’s not every day that you get to share the start line ( along with 6000 other people) with two living legends: British ex-pro cyclist David Millar and five time winner of the Tour de France, Bernard Hinault or have your food prepared by a celebrity Michelin-starred chef. But then again, the Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride isn’t just any old ride.

Taking place on the same day as the third and final stage of the Tour de Yorkshire and sharing parts of last year’s Grand Départ route, we’re preparing ourselves for what could be a glorious day, with a number of cheeky climbs to look forward to, including the ‘Cote de Goose Eye’ and infamous ‘Cote de Cow and Calf’ up onto Ilkley Moor.

Although there are three distances on offer, 50km, 108km and 140km, all starting and finishing at Roundly Park in Leeds, we naturally couldn’t resist the longest and toughest.

Celebrity chef on course

In line with its ambition of enhancing the experience of the British cycling community, Maserati has also recruited Michelin-starred chef, Alan Murchison, an age group duathlon world champion to apply his skills at the 100km feed station on Ilkley Road. Bearing in mind we’re likely to be fairly ravenous by then, we’ll be looking forward to tasting some of his recipes.

Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com - 17/03/2015 - Cycling - Maserati Cycling Launch - Leeds Town Hall, Leeds, England - (Left to Right) Former pro-cyclist and Maserati GB brand ambassador David Millar, Welcome to Yorkshire Chief Executive Gary Verity, Region Manager Maserati North Europe Peter Denton and Michelin-starred Chef Alan Murchison pictured with a Maserati Ghibli to launch Maserati Cycling and announce Maserati as the title sponsor of the Tour de Yorkshire Ride.
Picture by Alex Whitehead/SWpix.com

Rather annoyingly, we don’t quite know yet what’s in store for us, as Alan’s keeping the the exact recipes remain under wraps:

‘As a keen cyclist myself, I know how tired you can get of sticky sports nutrition by the end of a ride. I will be looking to use fresh Yorkshire produce and apply an Italian twist to surprise and delight riders, and give them the boost they need to see them home.’

Loking back at the 2014 Grand Depart

In case you weren’t in the know, The Grand Depart of the Tour de France is traditionally hosted somewhere outside of France.  The last time this event was brought to the UK was in 2007, taking professional riders from London to Kent, over the iconic North and South Downs.  But when it was decided the Tour would come to British soil once again, it headed north to the iconic Yorkshire Dales.  This is a part of England where anyone born and bred from ‘God’s Country’ is as proud of Yorkshire as if it was a nation itself – a fact that the 2.5 million people who flocked to the Dales to line the route will testify to.  
buttertubs tour de france

The event was truly spectacular thanks to the locals whole-heartedly embracing the Tour, from houses painted bright canary yellow to local sheep whose coats had red poker dots on them.  The Tour experience was summed up by the Race Director Christian Prudhomme, who described Yorkshire’s Grand Depart as the grandest’ in the 111 year history saying:

‘I can see the Tour in their hearts, and in their eyes. For that, I say thank you to everyone in Yorkshire who has made this Grand Depart so very, very special.’Tour de Yorkshire Delays

My riding partner – Charlotte Roberge

Although I’m very happy in my own company, I have the opportunity of sharing the Ride with my good friend and fellow Clapham Chaser, Charlotte Roberge.  Charly and I have known each other a number of years. She was always such a hardy cyclist, getting stuck in with the fellas in cycle training, at a time when cycling wasn’t well represented by women.  I specifically remember the cycle drills she brought over from Montreal – being able to pick up an empty Coke from the floor, whilst riding a bike at speed in order to test her bike handling skills.  Together we have been over to Spain, Andalucía as well as cycling a good few cycle sportives in the UK together.  We love talking bikes, races, training, more often than not, over a nice glass of wine. 


The Maserati Tour de Yorkshire Ride is a challenge that will certainly excite the most enthusiastic of cyclists, mainly because of the chance of riding the same route as the professional racers as well as the opportunity to cover a similar distance and terrain.  Although I’ve explored a lot the UK on a bike, the Yorkshire Dales is somewhere I’m not too familiar with – so this will be new territory!

Tour de Yorkshire 140km route

Having chosen to do the 140km route, Charly and I are both super excited about the Ride. And knowing that we’ll be in the company of David Millar and Bernard Hinault (although they’ll be up the front) will be an inspiration to keep us pedalling if we hit a low point.  Having looked at the course and watched David Millar’s video (see below), the climbs will test our leg power, but as my father now repeats to me on a regular basis, ‘Just tell your legs to ‘shut up’.  Neither of us are adverse to the odd hill or two in training, with most of our rides going up and down the Surrey and Kent hills, so hopefully they’ll stand us in good stead on the four key climbs: Cote de Chevin, Cote de Hebden BridgeCôte de Goose Eye and Côte de Cow and Calf,

[stag_video src=”https://youtu.be/5WuVTdv6fvI”]

About Maserati

The luxury car brand Maserati hardly needs any introduction. But what you might not know is that recently launched Maserati Cycling, a new programme designed to celebrate the marque’s affinity with the sport and to offer a series of unique experiences for Britain’s road cyclists, and have appointed retired pro-cyclist David Millar as its Maserati Cycling Ambassador.

Due to a modicum of genetic good fortune, the ability to run has always come naturally to me.  But as I plodded along the rocky track, 9000ft high in the Andean Cloud Forest of Peru, just breathing was difficult enough, let alone any attempt at trying to run. It was as though someone had cruelly tied my laces together, sneakily stuffed my pack full of bricks and then, for good measure, put a plastic bag over my head.  The truly depressing bit was that, I’d not been ‘running’ for more than five minutes and I still had 235 kms to go. Bloody hell, what had I let myself in for?!


The story of how I arrived in this sweaty pickle, began in late 2011 with a coffee at my local deli. I had come to meet fellow ultra runner Wes Crutcher, the founder of Beyond the Ultimate and the brainchild behind an exciting new race series called The Ultimate Ultras.

They comprise of four hellish sounding multi-stage ultras, each on different continents and, more interestingly, in different climates: The Mountain Ultra, starting 10,000ft up in Crested Butte within the infamous Rockies (now moved to the Himalayas); The Ice Ultra through the ice forests of Sweden; the Desert Ultra in the dry and dusty Namib Desert; and last but not least, the Jungle Ultra in the Amazon jungle of Peru.  To say he had my interest would have been an understatement.

The Jungle Ultra, or if you use it’s more exotic sounding name, the Ultramaraton des Los Andes y la Amazonia, is a six day, five-stage 235km, self-sufficient race through the Jungles of Peru. As well as being the first of the series, it was, maybe more interestingly, the first race that Wes had actually organised.  However, any apprehension that Wes had, was lost on us as 17 international competitors from 8 countries made their way to the ancient city of Cusco.

Getting to the start line was an endurance challenge in itself.  Three separate flights to Madrid, Lima and finally Cusco, before a five hour nerve-wracking and vomit inducing but truly stunning bus trip into the Manu National Park.  It felt as though we were heading into Jurassic Park.

Fast forward 230kms of some of the most spectacular scenery you’ll ever lay eyes on, I arrive at the finish, in 2nd place. Chuffed to be alive and in one piece – this is one race I’ll never forget.

I wrote about the race for Men’s Fitness, which you can see here. But to get a snippet of what it’s like, check out the photos below.

You can watch the latest Jungle Ultra trailer below:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]In an effort to fall back in love with cooking, my wife and I decided that we need to get a new oven – one that doesn’t require sticking a broom handle against the oven door to keep it shut. Ordinarily we’d normally go for the cheap and cheerful option, but we decided that a good oven would be a worthwhile investment – and one that will hopefully put the ‘fun’ back in cooking. [/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]

I’m not one to normally get excited about an oven. Having inherited my current one from my home’s previous owners, I’ve simply made good with what I’ve got. After all, an oven is not what I’d normally consider to be ‘an exciting purchase’.

But having got married and like many men before me, I’ve had to reassess my opinion of my trusty oven, which hitherto getting hitched, was used mainly for pizzas, lasagna and various other batchelor-esq type cooking. But no more. The end is nigh. It’s time to change. To upgrade. And most importantly, to enjoy cooking.

Our old oven door needs the help of a broom stick to keep the warmth in - essential for baking cakes!


So rather than pop down to our local Curry’s and speak to a sales representative who knows less about ovens than we do, we decided to take the plunge and go for a lifetime investment – a Miele. So we popped down to the Miele London Gallery off Cavendish Place, and chatted to someone who actually knew something about the product.

Zayne and I were both blown away by how high-tech ovens have suddenly got. Our current one does grill and fan oven – that’s it. But these ovens – they’re from another age. Of course, the more money you spend, the more you get. But even the most basic of ovens has 7 functions – and ones you’ll actually use rather than forget.

But certainly, what we were most taken with were the self-cleaning options (pyrolytic), the automatic programming (which means the oven works out how long and at what temperature you need to cook your chicken, etc) and the ‘Moisture Plus’ – which insert bursts of steam into the oven whilst your cooking – to avoid it getting too dry. It’s genius.

Having settled on particular model of oven, we wanted to see what it’s capable of.  So I signed us up for the ‘Let’s do Lunch‘ demonstration – a perfect opportunity to try before you buy!

“Our Let’s Do Lunch demonstrations are for anyone who’s planning a kitchen but hasn’t quite decided which Miele appliances to include. It’s the perfect way to find out exactly which appliances will suit you and your kitchen. Our talented Home Economists bring Miele built-in cooking alive, getting behind the signature features and showing you just how our appliances can be used to create beautifully cooked food which you’ll get to sample during the course. You’ll see the amazing versatility of Miele Steam Ovens, find out how a Miele warming drawer can take the stress out of cooking and discover the amazing control you have with a Miele induction hob.” 

What it turned out to be was sumptuous five course lunch made by two chefs who really knew what they were doing. We got to see all of their ovens in action – from the steam oven to the Pureline range. We even learnt a nifty trick for making the perfect poached egg with a steam oven – one that involved cracking the yolks into clingfilm before dropping them into water to steam for a few minutes. They were delicious!

As is often the case – project creep and kitchen envy came into play – and we then decided we’d need a matching hob. Typical!

However, despite the high price tag in comparison with your entry-level ovens from other brands, we’ve decided this is one purchase that’s worth the investment. Hopefully we’ll get 20 years out of it before the broom handle has to come back into play again!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Of all the cycle clothing brands out there, Rapha is as prominent as pizza restaurants in Italy. With their trademark white stripe on the arm of the quality merino wool jerseys, they’ve become the ‘must have’ cycling attire for the discerning amateur cyclist keen to look the part. And the same goes for professional riders, thanks to Rapha’s partnership with Team Sky.  So, it makes sense that Rapha should choose Team Sky rider and British Road Race Champion, Peter Kennaugh, as the face of the new Rapha Pro Team range for Spring/Summer 2015.

“Cycling to me is not just about the numbers and winning races, it’s about the style. The sense of freedom when you are off the front, when you are driving the peloton and knowing you are putting others in pain, putting it all on the line in the little hope that you might pull off something legendary. It’s what I enjoy about working with Rapha, a company that understands the incredibly emotional nature of this sport. To them, it’s not just a cycling jersey, or a pair of socks; there’s a reason for every single part of the design, and they want their products to tell a story.” – Peter Kennaugh 

Besides riding for Team Sky at the Tour de France in 2013 and becoming the British Road Race Champion, 25-year old Kennaugh has been proving his worth at the Tour Down Under in Australia, as well as the People’s choice Classic criterium and The Great Ocean Road Classic, to name but a few.

Rapha bibs and top

The new range is certainly different from many of their other collections. The ‘Data Print’ pattern reminds me more of Tron than cycling.  However, the concept was born out of a collaboration with design agency Accept & Proceed, who took the ride data from a Team Sky rider at the Tour de France and turned it into what you see below. Although not instantly obvious, each of the chevrons represents a Tour stage and a mapping of the ‘rider’s distance, elevation gain and effort’. It’s pretty cool, although you’d want to be feeling fairly svelte and fast to get away with wearing it.  Which if your curious, can be bought here.

And if you’re even more curious to look before you buy, then you can see the Pro Team installation in the window of the Cycle Club on Brewer Street, Soho.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]When I heard about the UK Wife Carrying Championships, I decided this was the perfect event to do with my now wife, Zayne. However, it turned out that I wasn’t quite as nimble over the hay bails as I’d like to have been. Moreover, it might well only be 360m, it’s a lot more difficult than it looks. I wrote a piece for Metro newspaper about it, which made the front page.[/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]

How to Carry your Wife

Wife carrying is something of an art. The accepted method is the ‘Estonian Hold’ which you can see from the photos below. There is of course the fireman’s carry – but this can get quite exhausting. Plus, it’s handy to be able to use your hands if you need to. The somewhat controversial method is the ‘Reverse Estonian Hold’ which involves having her face in your crotch and vice a versa. Not necessarily the most efficient method either, but in the year I did the race with Zayne, there was a £100 prize up for grabs for the first couple to cross the line using the method. Suffice to say, the uptake was zero.

If you turn out to be quite good at wife carrying, then you might want to go to the World Wife Carrying Championships in Finland, where the best of the best gather.

However, with this being something of a national sport in Finland, the competition is fierce. You’ll ideally want to be closer to 80kg with your wife as close to the 50kg minimum.

You can read my original article in Metro and watch the footage from BBC breakfast duo, Mike Bushell and Steph McGovern, who did a role reversal. They came last and therefore won the coveted Pot Noodle award. Bravo to them!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]Since I was a small child, Iceland has held me in an icy grip of fascination. So close to Europe (3 hrs) yet so remote – it’s the perfect place for a Land Rover Brand Experience in the new Discovery Sport. Diving in the Silfra, bathing in the Blue Lagoon, getting stuck in snow drifts, snow trekking at the Hotel Ion, exploring Reykjavik – this was a trip I’ll never forget.[/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”dotted”]

I can’t see a thing. Literally, not one thing. Which doesn’t bode well when it’s 2˚C outside and you’re driving through a snow storm. However, strangely enough, I wasn’t in the slightest bit afraid. My heated seats were keeping my bum nice and toasty. The extremely well sealed doors did a grand job of keeping the noise of the wind out. The heating was on. The radio was playing some decent tunes through our Spotify account. I might as well have been in a simulation.  Until there was a tap on the window.

‘We’ve got to turn around.’ shouted the hooded gentleman through the noise of the wind. Apparently, ahead of us one of the vehicles had got stuck in a snow drift on our way to Hotel Ion. And it was only going to get worse.  There was only one recourse of action – turn around and head back to Reykjavik.

This wasn’t how things were supposed to go. In fact, I think all of us were a little disappointed not to be arriving at the iconic hotel Ion – which we’d all been dreaming about. But then again, none of us wanted to spend a night stuck in a snow drift. Ironically, we later discovered that the luggage trucks, which had gone before us, had made it to the hotel without a hitch. It just goes to show how fickle the weather can be in this country, torn from ice!


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]Once in a lifetime moments don’t happen very often. Indeed, getting the chance to drive an iconic car across the Altiplano of Argentina, following in the tracks of the Dakar Rally happens so rarely, that one would be a fool to turn it down. Below you’ll find a snap shot of some of the images that made this trip so great. [/stag_intro]

But if you want to get a snap shot of what it’s like, check out Tim Boulter’s trailer below. An adventure cameraman of some note, he was embedded with a team from China.

[stag_video src=”https://vimeo.com/117359117″]

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro][stag_dropcap font_size=”90px” style=”normal”]T[/stag_dropcap]here are few sportives in the UK that will push you further than the Coast to Coast in a Day. I was lucky enough to take part in the inaugural race, writing about it for Cycling Plus magazine. I’d never ridden 150 miles in a day before, let alone a sportive. It was a baptism by fire, but one of the most fun days out I’ve ever had. [/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”strong”]12 + 1:3 + 39/52…I’m trying to do a mathematical equation, but I’m having difficulty concentrating.   Which is not surprising, because at this particular moment, I’m precariously swaying from side to side, whilst a bead of sweat irritatingly swings from the end of my nose like a stalactite made of jelly.  I look down at my feet for the umpteenth time to see if I’ve got an extra gear, but my glasses have conveniently misted up.  I want to remove them and at the same time wipe my nose, but if I take either of my hands off the handlebars, I’m almost certainly going to fall over.  ‘No, I must go on. After all, I’m supposed to be good at climbing’ I mutter to myself modestly along with a few expletives.

With a grunt that Maria Sharapova would be proud of, I push down hard on the pedals, only for my rear tyre to spin uncontrollably on the wet tarmac.  I go back to the maths again: 12 miles down + 1:3 gradient + 39/52 chainset + 4600m total ascent + wet tarmac + 137 miles = walk of shame! Curses!

Except, there shouldn’t be any shame in walking.  It’s actually quite sensible considering the circumstances:  I’m half way up Hardknott Pass – the steepest road in England – sweating like Andy Murray at Championship point in the Wimbledon Finals, I don’t have a compact chainset and I’ve still got 138 miles to go until I have a glimpse of the sea.

From one coast to another

Coast to Coast in a Day posterIt’s one of the most iconic routes in the country and thousands do it every year, mostly over several days.  Yes, you’ve guessed it, I’m cycling the Coast to Coast (C2C), but I’m not doing the one you’re thinking of.  And if you had been wondering why I’m on Hardknott – no, I’m not lost.  In fact, I’m cycling the inaugural Coast to Coast in a Day Sportive, which at 149 miles and 4600m of climbing, should make it arguably one of, if not THE, toughest sportive in the country.

Before you read any further and develop any preconceptions that I’m an expert, I should be honest and tell you that until recently I wouldn’t have exactly called myself a cyclist.  In fact I’m really a runner (boo, hiss) who’s developed a penchant for cycling, tough challenges, bucket lists and adventure.  And with a couple of nights camping thrown in, three national parks to traverse, a ferry crossing and a multitude of hernia inducing climbs, the Coast to Coast in a Day is the perfect place to find all four, especially if it also happens to be your first sportive!

The hub of Penrith

If you’ve ever attempted a C2C on your own, then you’ll know that logistics play a major part in the planning process.  But the only real planning you need to do for this event is figure out how to get to the Cumbrian town of Penrith, because the rest is organised for you by the very capable James Thurlow and his team from Open Cycling.

Now, the cunning amongst you will realise that Penrith is not on the coast.  And you’d of course be correct.  But after having stared at Google Maps as though it was a stereogram, it became clear to see how Penrith, with its convenient road and rail links, was the perfect place to operate a park and ride service from.  Indeed, unless your name’s Prince William and you have a helicopter conveniently to hand, Seascale isn’t the most accessible of seaside villages on the Irish Sea coast.  And nor is Whitby – the fish and chip Mecca that is our destination on the other side of the country.

So, with no chopper available and not keen on driving the 300 odd miles to Penrith on a traffic heavy Friday afternoon, I sensibly took the direct train from Euston. Three nervous hours later (after sitting in a reserved seat that I hadn’t reserved!) and another compulsory glance at Google Maps, I cycled the few miles over to Penrith Rugby Club, where several coaches and a lorry would transport us and our bikes to the start at Seascale.

To ensure that we didn’t bring the kitchen sink with us, we were restricted to bringing a bag no heavier than 10kg.   I’m assuming that unless you’ve been living in a nuclear bunker for the past 4 months, it won’t have escaped you that the weather in the UK has been, well, fairly crap.  Indeed, my winter cycling wardrobe has never seen so much use.  Which is why, despite it being the last weekend of June, I had packed for every eventuality.

 Carb light, stomach empty

Once I’d registered and attempted to erect my tent in a Force 10 like gale that was doing it’s damnedest to hinder my progress, I wandered on down to join the other 215 odd cyclists queuing at what appeared to be Seascale’s one and only takeaway restaurant.  ‘Do you have any pizzas?’ ‘Nope, I’ve run out’ said the jolly owner.  ‘Any lasagne?’ Nope. ‘Anything at all containing carbohydrate?’ I ask with desperation in my voice. ‘A kebab?’ he replies.  One hour later, I return to my damp tent clutching the next best thing – a burnt burger and chips, which was impressive considering he had secretly used a microwave.

I had set my alarm clock for 4.30, but I needn’t have bothered.  Having forgotten my roll mat, I had to make do with some cardboard from a bike box.  Feeling like a sporty tramp, I lay awake listening to the outer tent sheet flap in the gale, pondering upon whether this was more annoying than my growling stomach.

Bicycles at dawn

As the sun attempted to display some semblance of dawn, I headed on down to the beach at 5.30, where the official start was held.  The first riders had set off at 5am – probably those who’d actually managed to sleep in a B&B – but with a three-hour window in which to leave, and the ferry at Windermere not working until 7am, there was no rush.

The start line was on a small, but charming wooden pier that stretched out into the sea.  Feeling like a parody of Meryl Streep in the French Lieutenant’s Woman, I posed for a photo with my bike as I stared into the distance.  Realising that I was essentially faffing, I dibbed in at the control point and promptly set off on what was already feeling like a proper adventure.  Ahead of me lay three national parks, the first being the Lake District.

Caution, caution and more caution!

However, due to my blind enthusiasm to get on the road, I had to turn around within about five minutes, as I had set off in completely the wrong direction.  Once on the right course, it didn’t take long though, for me to catch up with Ray Milligan, a policeman from York, who thankfully had a much better idea of where we were going, and indeed what lay in store for us a few miles down the road.

This being my first sportive and potentially the longest time I was to have ever spent in the saddle, I was careful not to go out too hard.  As we trundled along the quiet country roads, passing through the quaint villages of Holmrook and Eskdale, one couldn’t help but marvel at the beauty of the Lake District.  It’s easy to see where Wordsworth got his inspiration.

Twelve miles in to the ride, I came around a bend in the road to be met with a scene that could have been lifted from Lord of the Rings.  Before me, like some ominous Mordor-esq Mount Doom, was Hardknott Pass.  As I passed the 30% sign, I was already in my smallest gear.  I’m not going to labour again on what it felt like going up that hill, but like many cyclists before me, I paid homage to its greatness.

On reaching the top of the Pass, I was met by a Mountain Rescue team who warned me to take it easy going down the other side.  I would have been better off on a mountain bike for the amount of gravel, pot-holes and the like, as I painfully held onto my brakes whilst sliding down the hill, passing Ray in the process who had unluckily got a puncture.

What’s harder than Hardknott?

Feeling as if I was on a roller coaster, I crawled my way back up Wrynose Pass, which ironically after Hardknott, didn’t feel as arduous in comparison.  It was probably because I was looking forward to reaching the first checkpoint in Kendal at mile 35 and tucking into some food.  My breakfast until this point had consisted of tea and Cliff Shot Bloks.

They say that any good journey should at some stage cross a body of water.  Well, bearing in mind that the Lake Windermere Ferry has been operating for 500 years, it’s as good a reminder as any that we’re in the Lake District.  Reaching the ferry with seconds to spare, I dibbed in (our time stops on the ferry) before leaping on to join another 30 cyclists who were busy swapping stories of how they all fared on Hardknott.

Tobias Mews cycling up Hardknott Pass
Battling my way up the Hardknott Pass ©James Kirby

The wages of gluttony

I arrived in Kendal after 3 hrs of riding.  I was so hungry that I promptly gorged myself on several baguettes, half a dozen brownies, 3 flapjacks and a cup of tea.  It was, without doubt the most gluttonous tea & cake stop of my short riding career.

Refreshed and full, I got back on the bike, joining forces with a pleasant chap called Stephen who was sporting a jersey proclaiming that he was a recent finisher of the Fred Whitton Challenge.  We headed west out of Kendal along the Old Sedbergh Road.   Moments later on the outskirts of the town, we were faced with 730ft climb that dragged on for a couple of miles.  Bitterly regretting the second baguette and now feeling a bout of indigestion mixed with the annoyance of cleats briefly touching tarmac on Hardknott, I made my way up the climb like Thomas Voeckler trying to cling onto the Yellow Jersey in Stage 19 of the 2011 Tour de France.

Go like the wind

There is a reason why any C2C journey is done from West to East.  It’s the beautiful tail wind.  With it gently pushing me on, I travelled with relative ease through the collection of river valleys and hills that form the majority of the Yorkshire Dales, excited about the homemade soup that awaited me at the second checkpoint at the Green Dragon Inn of Hardraw.

On passing through Catterick Garrison and another bout of baguette chewing at Checkpoint 3, I began to reminisce about my time in the Army.  The weather was almost perfect in its usual British schizophrenic way of not knowing whether to rain or shine, having me in and out of my rain jacket more times than I stared at my feet going up Hardknott.  And then it changed.

We could see a portentous cloud hovering in the far distance, but a flash of lightening closer to home gets our attention.   We count the seconds, waiting for the inevitable clap of thunder to indicate the distance from the lightening.  Five.  ‘Bloody hell, it’s not even a mile away’ I say to Stephen.  We quickly don our rain jackets, only for the heavens to open moments later and hit us with a freakish hailstorm that made us wince with pain.C2C finish

Where’s that man suit?

You’d think that signposting a 150-mile route across the country would be a recipe for error, but not once did we take a wrong turn.   It was brilliantly marked.  And because it went like clockwork, we could almost be forgiven for thinking we had it in the bag when we reached Checkpoint 4 in Ingleby.  With a tummy full of delicious hot chilli stew, we were just leaving when a friendly marshal warned us that it got a ‘bit hilly’ over the North York Moors.  ‘What do you mean hilly?’ I stammer, as my mind harks back to Hardknott, ‘It’s not like the last 120 miles have been flat.’

I wish he had been joking.  ‘Hilly’ just doesn’t do the North Yorkshire Moors justice.  Zipping up our suits of courage, we ploughed on, desperate for a glimpse of the sea that indicated the end was in sight. Finally, a break in the trees reveals a panoramic view of Whitby awash in sunlight, our destination.  The end is nigh.

As we amble down Whitby’s esplanade, I cross the finish line 11hrs and 1 minute after I set off this morning in Seascale.  With a smile on my face, I couldn’t help but do some more maths: My first ever sportive + affordable race entry + the furthest, longest and most climbing I’ve ever ridden + delicious food + brilliantly organised + not getting lost + friendly marshals = one massive tick in the box for a fabulous sportive adventure.

You can learn more about the Coast to Coast in a Day on Open Cycling’s website. The next edition takes place on 27 June 2015.

This article was written by Tobias Mews and originally published in Cycling Plus 

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

No one said that ironman races were easy and completing three in one summer is, for most people, a faintly ridiculous idea.  In June I flew to Salou, a seaside resort on the beautiful Mediterranean  coast of  Spain, to compete in the inaugural (and rather hot and hilly) Extrememan 226.  In August, I found myself in Norway, taking on the iconic Norseman Xtreme Triathlon – the toughest iron distance race in the world.

And now I’m taking on the first ever Challenge Henley.  The prospect of doing an iron distance race on my doorstep filled me with a different type of excitement to the one I’ve had in traveling to slightly more exotic places: it wasn’t going to hurt quite as much as the Norseman and Extrememan, I had never done a Challenge race, and it certainly wouldn’t take anywhere near as long to travel there and back.  Well, this at least, was my theory.

Challenge Henley is the latest edition to the now thirteen-race strong Challenge Family.   Besides the famous connotations with rowing regattas and business schools, Henley is also at the foot of the ancient Chiltern Hills, making it an attractive and perhaps obvious location to host an iron distance triathlon.  Moreover, because the Challenge series races are well known for being relatively fast, without sounding strange, I was therefore looking at Henley as a something of a ‘recovery ironman’.  Indeed, after the Norseman, I was in desperate need of an ‘easy’ race!

However, I’m not sure that the 600 other athletes from 25 countries were thinking quite the same as me.  People had travelled from as far afield as America, New Zealand and South Africa to be the first to race this inaugural Challenge event in the UK.

Challenge Henley - on the run 2

One of the annoying things about iron distance triathlons is the logistical planning that you have to go through in preparing for the race.   And although by no means as complex as planning for an unsupported race such as the Norseman, there were still a few complexities in planning for Henley.

For instance, the swim start is not where the finish is – which means that you have to think about where you want your car to be when you receive your finishers medal to the collapse into the hands of a massuse.  And the transitions were in different places too.  But this is all part and parcel of triathlon – and without it, we’d have too much time to think about other pressing things.

Registration was a much more speedy and efficient affair than my attempt at driving out of London on a Saturday.  Within minutes of arriving I had picked up my obligatory race swag and the all important chip and stickers.  As I gradually bumped into various friends from my racing past on my way to the bike racking, I began to get excited.  This might be a fun race.

The swim start is at Henley Business School and about a five minute drive up the road from the registration at Phillis Court.  It’s a bit longer if you do what I foolishly did, which was to cycle precariously along the busy A-road in my flip flops, with various transition bags dangling from me.  Not something I would advise anyone else to do.

So, having racked my bike, taken note of the massive tree next to it, finally made the executive decision of what to leave in my transition bags and by some fluke caught a lift back to my car, it was time to get back to London.  Although there were plenty of places I could stay in and around Henley, I rather fancied the idea of eventually sleeping in my own bed before an ironman.  Plus I had promised to turn up for a few hours of a friend’s stag do in London (I don’t like making life easy for myself).  And after all, how long can it take to drive to Henley at four o’clock in the morning?

Come race day, you have two choices for parking.  You can leave your car at the finish and then get a river taxi to the swim start at Henley Business School.  Or, if you haven’t realised that you had to book this in advance (like little old moi), you will have to park at the school itself and worry about picking your car up after you’ve somehow managed to swim, cycle and run 226kms.

The swim start was organised in waves of ten minute intervals, based on your predicted race time.    As I had only registered 2 weeks earlier, I was in the third wave at 0650.  This gave me time to hear the various moans and groans of delight from the earlier waves as they submerged in the 15 degree C water, which was balmy in comparison to the 5 degrees outside.  But all of this added to the already buzzy atmosphere as the sun rose to reveal a rather enchanting mist hovering over the Thames.

Despite the chill and the fact that I would be initially swimming against the current, I was relishing the fact that for once, I couldn’t go too far wrong on the 3.8km out and and back swim along the River Thames.  My zig-zagging would be contained by some useful river banks!

I emerged from the swim sporting various bits of river bed vegetation on my face, feeling like the ghoulish character Davy Jones of Pirates of the Caribbean fame.  Having discovered that I had somehow done another personal worst in my swim time coming practically last out of the water – I jumped on my bike and thought ‘to hell with it – I might as well crank it up a gear’.

The Chilterns are beautiful and well worth a visit.  But cycling three out-and-back loops over the space of 180kms meant that we got to see the same route six times – which is a little more often than I would care for, especially when one one of the hills is appropriately called Pishill.  But I reminded myself that this was perfect for the loyal spectators.  Plus, you got to see the pros at the front of the field as they careered past you, generating that terrifying noise unique to rear disc carbon wheels.

Challenge Henley bikeHaving done the Norseman only 6 weeks previous,  I wasn’t in the slightest bit fazed by 2,000m of climbing.  In fact, there are essentially two hills in each lap – both of which are long and gradual in climbing but you’re rewarded with speeds of up to 40mph on the return leg – when the rather bumpy roads allowed.

Despite the rather repetitive nature of the course, I actually had a good time on the bike.  This was possibly due to the fact that the majority of the competitors were equipped with aero helmets and TT bikes.  I was not.  So I took immediate pleasure in overtaking anyone that looked like they should be faster than me, especially if they had a rear disc wheel.  And therefore it was with absolute delight (and surprise) that my cunning overtaking maneuvers had secured me the 62nd fast bike split of the day with a time of 5.42 – a new PB.

After my disastrously slow and painful run at the Norseman, I didn’t quite know how the four-lap marathon would pan out, especially as I had done no long runs since then.  But on thrusting my bike into the hands of a cheerful race volunteer at T2, I trundled off, content that whatever happened, I had at least enjoyed the bike leg.

The picturesque town of Henley is rather splendid and lent itself brilliantly to both spectators and to the runners.  Although, only a small section of the run is actually in the town and therefore on tarmac, the rest of the course involved running through fields, or along the river’s edge.  When, typically, it started to rain, I began to think I should have brought my trail trainers, as the soft ground underfoot was fairly wet and not ideal of racing flats.

The support on the run was probably the best part of the whole race.  The bridge into Henley was lined with friends and families, thrilled to cheer on their weary athlete.    In fact, this was the first ironman I had done where my friends could actually come to support me.  A large bunch from my club, the Clapham Chasers, had cycled out to Henley to cheer a few of us on, which gave me the extra impetus to finish hard before I unceremoniously cramped up.

And hard I did finish.  The final lap flashed by as my mind turned to how much I had enjoyed the race, erasing any pain I might be feeling in my legs.  As I trundled to the finish area some 3hrs 21 minutes later, I couldn’t help but grin.  By some twist of fate and stroke of luck, I had knocked almost an hour off my ironman PB, to finish in 10hrs 38 (and ultimately 7th in my age group).  As I drove home, several hours and free massage later, I decided I wanted to do another Challenge event.  They aren’t necessarily easy, but they certainly are fun!  But first,  must get myself a TT bike and one of those funny looking helmets!


Overall Position: 48th

Age Group Position: 7th

Overall time: 10.38:03

3.8k Swim: 1:25:19 (average time 1:15:39)

180k Bike: 5:42:58 (average time 6:20:49)

42k Run: 3:22:11 (average time 4:31:16)

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

[stag_intro]The Norseman Xtreme Triathlon is one of those races that you hear whispered about with a mix of awe and trepidation. Known as the ‘toughest Iron distance triathlon in the world’, it’s not for the faint of heart. Indeed, jumping out of a car ferry into a freezing cold fjord, swimming 2.4 miles before a 200km bike over 5 mountain passes is just the warm up for the marathon with a sting in it’s tale: a 2000m high mountain, upon which you’ll find the finish. This race is all about the t-shirt. And it better be black![/stag_intro]

[stag_divider style=”double”]

[stag_dropcap font_size=”170px” style=”normal”]T[/stag_dropcap]he telephone rings.  ‘Hello mate!’ It’s my friend Alan Scott.  ‘So, do you want the bad news or the really bad news?’  I hate it when I’m asked this question.  With a week to go until we tackle the world’s toughest long distance triathlon, I was secretly hoping that he might simply tell me that the event was cancelled.  I ask him for the ‘really bad news’.

‘Well, I’ve just looked on Facebook and someone has written that it’s high tide in Eidfjord at 4:30, meaning that we’re going to be swimming against the tide’.  I gulp as a sick feeling rises in my stomach, wondering whether I could actually swim 3.8kms against the tide.   ‘And the bad news?’ I tentatively inquire.  There is a pause at the other end – ‘It’s forecast to rain – all day!’  I hang up on him and start looking for booze in my kitchen in order to contemplate this news.

Alan and I were preparing to travel to Norway in search of a ‘black finishers T-shirt’ – awarded to the top 160 who complete the Norseman Xtreme Triathlon.  Being on the same latitude as Anchorage of Alaska, it is not only the world’s toughest but also the world’s most northern triathlon.   If I was going to survive this ordeal, I would need all the help I can get – and the weather conditions weren’t on my side!

“Being on the same latitude as Anchorage of Alaska, it is not only the world’s toughest but also the world’s most northern triathlon.”

Now in its tenth year, the Norseman has built a fearsome, if not iconic reputation.  Iconic that is if you’ve actually heard of it.  A point-to-point race starting in a fjord and finishing 226kms away on top of an 1800m high mountain is not everyone’s cup of tea.  Indeed you could be mistaken for thinking it was a mystical race in a land very similar to that of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth where triathletes, starting in The Shire, have to journey through Mordor before attempting to run up Mount Doom in search of a Black finishers T-Shirt – which Frodo might have told you was a stupid idea.

Luckily, the organisers don’t make it easy for mere mortals to enter the race or even get to the point of jumping off the car ferry.  The first hurdle begins in October of the previous year, when you have a two-week period to enter for a lottery slot.  When I received my invitation telling me I had been successful, I couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or not – knowing that Hurdle Two was about to begin.

Finding friends to come and support you

Being an unsupported race – the next ‘hurdle’ is to persuade a friend or family member foolish enough to accompany you as your support crew.  The friend needs to be unswervingly loyal, as the rules state that they have to accompany you up the rocky mountain path for the last 4.7 kilometers up Gaustatoppen… and then walk back down again – on their own  – as the lift is limited to athletes only.  I was very lucky to be supported by Devon based event organisers Endurance Life (EL), who for the past five years have provided a unique support service as well as guaranteed entry to adventurous triathletes.

With your entry secured you then need do a bit of planning.  You must decide how to get to Norway by working out whether it’s better to fly to Bergen (93 miles from start) or Oslo (200 miles from the start but closer to the finish).  Hire a car.  Book accommodation both in Eidfjord, where the race starts and at Rjukan, near to where the race finishes.  And finally, you need to figure out how you’re going to get home.

The third hurdle is the monumental task of training for an event like the Norseman.  With over 5000m of ascent – it’s difficult to replicate this type of terrain if you live in London.  The closest I could get to a decent incline was Box Hill in Surrey – which I now view as flat in comparison to what I would go through.

The final hurdle is the event itself!  Alan and I decided to fly to Oslo (I had uni friends living there) and drive the 200 scenic miles to Eidfjord.  It is during this journey that you are struck by how truly beautiful Norway is.  However, the drawback of driving from Olso is that you scare the living bejeebies out of yourself by having a glimpse of the first 90kms of the bike leg.  As we drove through the deep mountain passes, Alan and I kept looking at each other saying ‘surely not’ and ‘did you see how steep that was?’

Registering for the event is an unceremonious affair.  You simply sign a waver admitting that you are insane and that if you die, it’s not anyone’s fault but your own.  We also picked up an A4 sized envelope containing the rules a few stickers, a timing chip and a green silicon hat.  And then we heard the rumors – the swim might be cancelled.   But we had to wait for the race briefing to find out more.

The Viking Gods had for some unknown reason decided that it should rain.  This had the knock-on effect of causing snowmelt water from the glaciers high in the mountains to enter the Hardangerfjord and lower the water temperature overnight down to a chilly nine degrees Celsius.  So, unless your name is Lewis Gordon Pugh –we wouldn’t be allowed to swim.  Having been told by my club swim coach the week before that I only swim with one arm (I wasn’t aware of this but it accounts for why I’m so slow) I almost felt giddy with relief!

But the organizers weren’t going to let us off that lightly.  They had a contingency plan that involved moving the swim start six miles down the fjord to where the water temperature was a more modest 17 degrees.  Yay!  But this meant they had to move T1 to a new location and extend the bike course by 20kms to a total of 200kms.  Bugger! At this point, metaphors such as  ‘drowned rat’ and  ‘caught between a rock and a hard place’ entered my mind.

So, having heard that bombshell I returned to cabin with the other Endurance Life athletes to sort out our kit, eat a monumental amount of pasta and try, if possible, to get some rest.  We would need it!


After waking up at the ungodly hour of 1.30am we headed for the ferry.  On arriving at the port, we were marked with our numbers and then boarded with nothing but our wetsuit, goggles and hat.  At 4.30 am a Norwegian accented voice was heard on the tannoy giving us a 15-minute warning call.  Suddenly, the reality of the moment was upon us.

Wetsuits on, we ventured onto the landing area of the ferry, lining up to jump the 15ft into the fjord.  Giving an obligatory war cry I jumped off, clutching my goggles as my body plunged several meters into the depths of the fjord.  Surprised that it wasn’t too cold, I quickly moved out of the way to avoid being jumped upon.  But on putting on my goggles everything went dark.  I had made the rookie mistake of wearing tinted goggles for a 5am swim!  Plonker!

Casting my mind back to the briefing I remembered being told that we would have a short swim from the ferry to where the kayaks were marking the start.  What none of us had factored in was that this ‘short swim’ would be almost 800 meters.  Fifteen minutes later I finally reached the kayaks and before I could mutter a complaint to anyone who might have cared to listen, the foghorn of the ferry sounded and we were off.  I didn’t even have time to figure out in which direction!

Naively, I had imagined that I had done a semi decent swim but when I reached the shore, I could have swallowed my goggles with shock.  On asking my support crew for the time I discovered that I had been swimming for two hours – a full 40 minutes slower than my previous slowest Ironman swim!  But it turned out that I was one of the lucky ones.  An hour into the swim (and about the same time that Tim DeBoom was finishing), the winds picked up, making it fairly choppy for the slower swimmers like me.  Despite extending the cut-off time, 27 people did not finish the swim in time.

But I wasn’t aware of any of this at the time and quickly jumped on my bike to complete the 20km warm up – in the pouring rain.  The 40km climb from Eidfjord to Dyranut could be one of the reasons people from around the world come to tackle the Norseman.  Weaving along an old tourist route that was opened especially for us and with no cars to worry about, we could only stare in awe at our surroundings.   Around every turn we were greeted by otherworldly waterfalls pouring over the edges of magnificent canyon walls before we disappeared through one of the many ancient tunnels cut into mountains.  I almost didn’t mind the 1250m climb to Dyranut but as soon as it flattened out, I was glad to have my gillet as we battled the bitterly cold cross winds and driving rain.  I was so cold, I had to use my wrists to change gear.

With each athlete having their own support crew it was incredible to watch the support vehicles speeding past in search of their athlete, many with spare bikes attached to their roofs.  There were times when I was reminded of the Tour de France – the only difference being that I was neither in a peloton or cycling at an average of 70kms an hour!

The last climb  – a killer of a mountain called Imingfjell – came as we approached the 160km marker.  It was here that we were warned that if we were not careful, we could loose our marathon legs (which I can account for).  Once you’re up it though, you know that you only have 40kms to go and all of it down hill.  However, despite having aero bars, I spent most of the time clinging onto the drops as though my life depended on it – which it did as there were random bumps and potholes that would have made me go splat if I wasn’t careful!

After just over seven and a half painful, back killing hours in the saddle I reached T2, nestled in the rather pretty town of Austbygde, to be welcomed by not only the fabulous EL crew, but also a surprising amount of sunshine.  On leaving transition a volunteer flashed a piece of paper – I was in 151st position – just inside the Black T-shirt cutoff limit of 160.

The conceived wisdom is to try and go hard for the first 25kms along the flattish road bordering the stunning lake Tinnsjøen and then prepare to walk.  Because, you’ll then hit the 1800 metre high ‘wall’ that is Gaustatoppen.  As a decent runner, it is normally during the run leg that I start to race – being able to make up significant time from my diabolical swim.  But on this occasion, I was reduced to the dreaded Ironman shuffle thanks to Imingfjell.  Along the way, I met up with James Heraty – another member of Team Endurance Life.  Grateful to have a companion, we decided to stick together and shuffle our way to the finish.

Our sole aim was to reach the 32.5km cut off and thereby be in with a chance of gaining the coveted Black T-Shirt.  Only the first 160 athletes that reach this checkpoint within the 14:30 cutoff would be allowed to continue up the mountain.  The rest have to turn around and go back down the mountain to finish at the 1,000m mark and collect a white finishers T-shirt.  We made it, with over an hour to spare and in about 135th position.

[stag_video src=”http://youtu.be/f3D51tmXfIk”]

Having picked up our mountain packs at the 37.5 km checkpoint, we painfully crawled up the mountain. The final 4.7kms is comprised of boulders, rocks and a pitiful excuse for a path.   No athlete was in doubt as to what the finish looked like.  It majestically loomed above us, an old NATO radio tower that reminded you of Blofeld’s mountain retreat in the James Bond film Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  It was a true slog up the mountain.  But, with James’ wife Cat giving us words of encouragement we eventually crossed the line, 16hrs and 4 minutes after we set off that morning.  The view at the top was worth it – 60,000 km2 of panoramic views.

At the award ceremony the following day, the rain having returned and causing Gaustatoppen to be shrouded in mist, 223 grinning athletes gathered for the group photo.  Resplendent in our respective Black and White T-shirts – the only prize for finishing the race – we smiled for the camera, knowing that we had conquered the world’s toughest long distance triathlon and got the T-shirt to prove it!

First published in Triathlete’s World Magazine in 2011.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.