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Tri The Beast: Alex Lawton
Posted by: Editor
Posted on: Tuesday 29th September 2015


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Tri The Beast 2015 - Race Winner Alex Lawton reports

Further to our separate report from ladies winner Fenella Langridge, we also asked the men's winner of the inaugural Tri The Beast Triathlon from Xman Events (www.xmanevents.com) about his experience in Exmoor.

If you are looking for a challenge in 2016 then check out this report and then visit the Xman Events website. They also have a full iron-distance planned, based in Wimbleball...


What kind of race feels sure enough of itself to call itself 'The Beast'?

This was a race I wanted to do the second I saw it, saw what made up the distances, the setting and the general nature of the course. It was a late addition to the calendar and like Helvellyn a race I knew I'd enjoy the challenge of. With Helvellyn falling two weeks before it would also act as a good 'warm up' race (how many times can you refer to Helvellyn as a warm up race?). Even scrambling down Swirral Edge two weeks ago I was more cautious than usual, desperate not to do anything silly which could risk missing out on this race.

The Beast...

  • 1.9km sea swim beneath the cliffs of Countisbury Hill
  • a 92km / 57mile bike incorporating the small matter of 6000ft worth of climbing
  • An 18.5km run and another ~2500ft of ascent.

On a typical weekend ride in the Peak's I'll often head out towards Glossop, up and down Snake's Pass before looping back around via Wynnatts Pass before the long home straight. It's a pretty hilly ride but only about 2/3 of the 6000ft of climbing in the Beast bike leg, not to mention the run. But here are a few other ways to picture it……..

  • About the same as the Burj Khalifa tower, the tallest building in the world, stacked on top of itself three times
  • About 25x Big Ben's
  • About 10 of those show stopper cakes from GBBO

Based in the Lynton / Lynmouth in Exmoor, which incidentally has more tea rooms per capita than any other seaside town in the UK*, and surrounded by cliffs and with a relatively small field the race had an almost secret and exclusive feel to it. A bit of a hidden gem not yet discovered by the masses.

Being a five hour trip from Manchester the only real chance I'd had to look at the course was a fly-by video of the bike route put together by Xman Event organizers Cery's and Amer (which was a great help and something it would be great to see other events doing). But it wasn't until driving the course on Friday afternoon when you really got a sense of just how steep, and how many, some of the climbs were going to be. I'd barely even thought about needing to run after, probably for the best.

Turning off the rugby before the end of the game I had ambitions of a decent bit of sleep. Reading 'Iron War' before nodding off I came to the section which essentially says people do triathlons because they enjoy the suffering (as much as they may dislike it at the time). It seemed like an appropriate thought to drift off too but as usual I only managed a few hours drifting in / out of sleep, busy with thoughts and excitement about the next day.

Swim

Whilst I'll back myself with a chance in the majority of races, as well as being unfamiliar with the course I had no real idea on the competition either. Barring sneaking a quick look at the start list at registration, I had no real idea what or who to expect.

Tri The Beast - Alex Lawton

The choppy conditions made it hard to find any real rhythm whilst the strong tides also made the overall pace a lot slower than usual. Despite everyone getting chicked in the swim by Fenella Langridge (Elite triathlete and eventual women's race winner), myself and Steve Osborne (who I'd later learn to be a sub9 hour pro Ironman athlete), had put a gap between the rest of the field and stayed together throughout. Knowing what was to come I was happy to take it steady during the swim, and was quite happy to draft until shortly before the end when I cheekily pulled up alongside Steve and made a slicker exit up the beach as the first male out of the water and into T2.

Steve saw me about to un-rack and leave for the bike, took a look at my bike and simply said “f**k that's a nice bike”. Rather than the steely eyed focus of a serious athlete I just couldn't stop laughing, shocked by the honesty rather than the usual shift 'bike envy' looks everyone who's ever done a triathlon will know about.

Tri The Beast - Alex Lawton

Bike

The hills began immediately and looking back after a few minutes it was clear I'd already opened up a big gap. Rather than try and fail to do justice to the bike course here's a video I didn't' make earlier but someone else did, which pretty much sums it up barring the rouge sheep which nearly upended me through the Valley of Rocks, it pretty much sums up what a great route it is:

One of the biggest worries people seem to have when doing longer races is what, how much and how often to eat. I stuck to the same principles as shorter races, taking a gel every 20 minutes or so. Keeping energy and concentration levels steady throughout, and more importantly making sure there was enough in the tank for the run.

Tri The Beast - Alex Lawton

Run

The final few km's on the bike were all downhill, descending back into Lynmouth. A chance to spin and stretch the legs for the next 18.5km. Even with this respite I couldn't quite believe how fresh I felt leaving transition.

Whilst I can't provide a video this time, I'll let the experts describe it...

“The run follows the river Lyn upstream to the waterfalls of Watersmeet, through leafy woodland and mysterious glens the path meanders, climbing up, and up, and up before launching you onto open moorland with magnificent views of the surrounding hills and coast. The scenic climax of the event will be at mile 9 of the run where, poised above The Valley of Rocks, you will have your breath taken away by the awesome surroundings before digging in for the final effort along the coastal path back to the finish on Lynmouth Green”

Following the river upstream is probably the nicest run section I've had the pleasure of doing in a race. It seemed to fly by and I was enjoying every step, with no inclination to begin looking at any time/pace/distance and begin counting down for the finish. Then things got steeper, and tougher. I still felt good but now I was climbing up and up onto the moors. Things flattened out and soon I felt fresh and picked up the pace on the narrow trails. Save for the occasional glance down to see my race number (or glance up to see the sea), I could've quite easily been out running on the trails around the Malvern Hills. I wanted to win but equally I wanted to set a good overall time which might last a few years. Getting a bit carried away the next minute I was picking myself up out of the bracken and climbing back onto the path. Maybe I should just take it one step at a time for now.

Tri The Beast - Alex Lawton

About an hour in I still felt pretty good (relatively speaking), but yet another climb to the very top of the moors was starting to hurt the legs and the Achilles, whilst the steep descent was just as tough on the knees and quads. Rounding the cliffs the end was in sight and time to enjoy another good win on a tough course, one that I'm sure will soon get quite a reputation over the coming years.

I hadn't been tracking my overall time throughout but the organizers weren't expecting anyone to come in under the five hour mark, I stacked up as follows:

  • Swim: 1.9km -  27:49 (1st male / 2nd overall)
  • Bike: 92.5km + 6,200FT ascent  - 03:01:58 (1st )
  • Run: 18.5k + 2,486ft ascent 01:23:22 run (1st)

Overall including transitions I'd nipped in at 04:55:06, about 18 minutes ahead of second place and a new course record (it is the first year of the race, but I'll take it for now). But, with another year of training and better knowledge of the course, I'm already looking forward to bettering this next year.

Tri The Beast - Alex Lawton

* comments about the number of Lynton/Lynmouth team rooms may not be factually accurate


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