Through the eyes of a (total) amateur
The Helvellyn Triathlon is by no mean your stand triathlon it embodies exactly in my mind what an amazing day out in the Lake District should be – some might disagree which is exactly why this race appealed so much to me.
The Helvellyn Triathlon is advertised on the Tri hard website as “one of the toughest triathlon’s in the world”. The Helvellyn Triathlon takes you on journey around, up, down and across some of the most amazing part of the east Lake District. Involving swimming in the crystal cold water of Ullswater followed by loop around Helvellyn finishing on the infamous “Struggle” before running to the summit via an equally infamous Swirls edge a grade 1 scramble…… what is not to like?
This whole race for me was about gaining some race experience and being my only second tri I was keen to find out if all the new fancy gear I had brought during lock down actually worked and get that experience I was talking about. Whilst I’ve done countless ultras and long-distance cycling, they all been unsupported and not in a race setting so to speak. So I was super pumped to get a place on this event and for it to go a head. Despite how many time I told myself that “I’m not interested in times,” “it’s just a day out in Lakes,” “I’ll just enjoy myself” when your stood on the start line and your competitive side comes out that all very quickly goes to shit as your about to see.
This was going to be my weakest part of the whole Helvellyn Triathlon and as I joined the ques to start the swim, I just wanted to get it over with. My plan was to avoid the middle, stick to the outside edge find someone of equally pace and just swim behind them. Two key things to my thinking here :
1) It would slow me down.
2) I would not have to sight and could literally just follow them.
For the first 300 meters or so this worked perfect until said person started to breaststroke. It was only at this point, I realised that whilst I felt I had gone some distance I clearly had not. I was in fact very much halfway but feeling comfortable and in my mind going through the countless tips that the club’s coaches had given me I picked up the feet of the next unsuspecting swimming and followed them keeping my eyes on them at a distance at all times. Im not even sure this allowed but it worked a treat and why make it more hard work than it needs to be. Fast forward another 425 meter and with some effort and digging deep I was aware that I was coming to end of the first lap.
What I had not practised in my swim training was getting out the water quick this was about to show in front of 100s of people. About 3 meters from the exit of the first lap I took a rather sharp and nasty slip giving my head and confidence a kick into touch. For some unknown reason to me my legs hit the rocks went like jelly and for all intense purpose just did not work. I took a moment together my thoughts and after a competitor stopping to ask if I was okay ( id later see him on Helvellyn and run the edge with him … thanks Alistair 😊 ) I decided that, that was the swim over for me and moved through to transition 1. I later found out that a few people had done this. Doing just 1 lap not falling on their face this very much softened the blow to my ego.
The cycle was biblical to put it mildly.
I will be first to put my hands up and admit that I am a fair-weather person when it comes to the bike. Even the slightest sight of water on the road and I am going for run. That said I had a time in mind of sub 2:45. This was going to be some experience but one that I was very much looking forward to. I knew the route id ridden it with James about 3 months early and knew what coming which allowed me to manage my pace and hit the hills strong. Setting off from T1 was awesome the buzz is incredible the atmosphere unreal starting out by heading to Airforce is very much steady I found a pace that suited me and I was sitting on that for as long as I could. The first climb out for Ullswater and on the A6 went well even with the rain and water I managed to stay on my bike and was enjoyable.
The A6 however was literally the most horrific thing I have ever done on a bike. If looked up I got smashed with water from the cyclist in front of me. If looked down I got smashed by water from the car. I have never been on a bike in these conditions. I am sure I was not this wet on the swim and remember thinking “sweet just stay on the bike, don’t fall off and go slow”. It worked a treat and after some time the turn left for Thirlmere came up and it all seemed to carm down it was great to chat to people as they passed me laughing at how horrific that section was.
From here it is extremely easy going all the way to Ambleside with nothing more that just a short climb to Dunmail raise. At Ambleside, the meat of the cycle kicks in with a nasty climb up the Struggle to the top of Kirstone pass. Uphill is something I’m good at it was nice to pass a few people on the uphill and just grind through I had deliberately taken it steady on whole ride in preparation for this B%$&*T id like to think that it paid off.
From the top its super easy back in to T2. Cycling is not something id say I am strong at If I am honest, I think that whole way around I went passed two people and I don’t even think they where part of the race.
Run – This I can do
There is no easy way to the top of Helvellyn but the whole way regardless of the weather it is an inspiring mountain to be on and your jacked off energy gels its even more exciting. For the first time on the whole Helvellyn Triathlon this was where I hopped id do well and make up some time.
The route itself heads up out Glenridding via the steep path of Little cove to the top of Birkhouse Moor. You could see the long line of racers plodding up its steep switch backs all the way to the skyline. I was far from running more like fast walking hands on knees and pushing up my way up the hill along side everyone else. At the top BM it is a great long steady run down to Red Tarn along here I seemed to get some sort of second wind and opened my legs to get some amazing running in. It was at this point I bumped into Alistair and we chatted all the way to the Tarn. Before it is another short pull, up to the Swirls edge and on the scramble. I’ve done this route countless time in all conditions and felt very much at home nipping past other runners the thing with this route is that is easy to think your at the top once your on the summit of Helvellyn. But there is still 1 more climb to go up to the top of Raise. From here you can feel like you are on top of the world and views are just incredible looking along the vast vista of the Lake District made me feel proud to say this was my home. From here its down all the way again a second wind came to me, my fell running experience kicked in and zipped down the steep tracks like gazelle all the way to finish. Time 2 hours 15 seconds.
All in all it was an amazing experience and one that I would 100% do again I crossed the finish line with a happy face and feeling of accomplishment. The was plenty to take away from the experience and im now looking forward to heading out over the winter and getting stronger ready for next years event.
This post was put together by Jack Oliver from Lake District Adventuring