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Wensleydale ‘Full Cheese’ Triathlon
Posted by: Jo Carritt
Posted on: Friday 15th August 2008


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Billed as of the ten toughest triathlons in the UK, I genuinely cannot recall having done as grueling event as this weekend at Wensleydale, and I’m not one for shying away from the sort. The toughness provided by the lay of the land, as the bike route follows an extremely scenic course over the dales, taking in gradients +25% in generous measure but rewarding with some beautiful moorland scenery and fast descents (plus a couple of very, very steep and technical ones for good humour). The 12 mile fell run takes an immediate skyward turn, testing the aerobic endurance on up to the top of the fell, and foot speed on the 6 mile descent to the finish line. And that's all without the weather that we had today. 10th august? Of COURSE there'd be over a foot of chop on the small lake, and T1 would be under 4ft of water! And why on earth would you DOUBT that you'd be treated to lashing horizontal rain, carried by 60mph gusts of wind over the tops of the Yorkshire Dales?

The swim and T1 were about 6 miles away from the race HQ, so having assembled our bike to (fell) run gear in the Kudos Bike's car park, which is T2 for the day, that was our next destination of the morning. We arrived to find that parking was a bit tight to say the least, the lake being at the bottom of a very steep and narrow lane. Turns out the reason for this is that the bottom bit of the lane including transition area and the swim exit ramp, was entirely flooded.

The swim was shortened. Not much disappointment amongst the crowd of frozen competitors huddled around the ominous looking waters in their wetsuits, in the rain. It would be a 400m straight out and back dash. Over the noise of the howling wind, I don’t think anyone heard the starters orders, if any were given, and we all just started swimming when those around us did. It was like swimming into a vertical wall of water - swimming square out into the direction of the wind and waves. Total chaos. Actual swimming was out of the question, which in a bizarre way was quite relaxing - no one seemed too concerned about racing and there was really no scuffling between competitors as we all just did what we had to, progress forwards. I saw several people calling for canoes around me within the first 100m. I was a bit surprised to discover that I was really quite enjoying it, and even felt a little disappointed when we reached the turn-buoy much sooner than expected. The swim in was super fast, of course!

Transition was pretty slow - finding bike in the bushes (remember - bike racks under 4 ft water, so we'd all just had to lay our bikes and kit out along the grass verges) and put on as much clothing as I had, whilst wet and shivering. Steven was still in transition doing the same.

First bit of the bike course is a 1:3 climb from the lake. Luckily I knew this and had put the bike in appropriate gearing - unlike some! This was really a nice little 'starter' provided by the organizers to set the tone for the rest of the bike course, which I have described already. The winds made it so treacherous that I was reluctant to take my hand away from my bars to grab water bottle or zip up my gilet, and my jaw was locked so tight from the cold that I had a face-ache and had difficulty eating anything and there were several occasions when I considered retiring form the race on safety grounds. The few supporters that had ventured out around the course were treated to some pretty grim facial expressions, I’m sure!

For the first half of the course I just concentrated on working hard where I could make progress and riding safely in other places - convinced of the fact that everyone else out there would just have to be doing the same. On the climb past Garsdale Station I was passed by a woman wearing wonderwoman pants over her cycling shorts! She was flying up the 25%-er, and I though good thing too, in those pants... this cheered me up a bit and encouraged me to dig in. WW and I played cat and mouse - she was amazing on the hills and I was in the unusual position of being stronger on the flatter sections. Just my luck that bloody Wonderwoman shows up, I think. The last part of the course is a long rolling descent into Hawes enabling me to catch her and we enter T1 together. I was out on the run a good couple of minutes before she was. I didn't know who she was, and could only assume that she was some local girl, born and bred on the fells, and would certainly have me on the descent even if I’d held her off on the way up. So I had my work cut out.

Like the swim and the bike course the run was flooded and extremely windy. My gilet behaving like a sail - irritating but with the wind mostly from behind on the climb, I decided I could live with it - just made staying on the path a bit trickier when those side gusts hit! it truly was nose-runningly, whimperingly gruesome! And people were coming down already!

I counted three girls on the return from the full distance before the top I could not see Wonderwoman anywhere close behind me, but I checked to see if I could possibly run any harder. Not really - the ground was too uneven, wet, steep, boggy, and my feet hurt. I was pushing as much as I should. I thought it fairly unlikely that there could be three women THAT far ahead of me - so reckoned that a one or two of them were probably in mixed relay teams. I just wouldn't know. So I pushed on, focusing on finishing as soon as possible, and in front of Wonderwoman.

After an hour we reach fog/cloud, we must be near the top, and suddenly Steven appears. He yells 'those women are all in relays teams - you're leading!' exactly what I wanted to know. Nice one. I see the turn around cairn very soon after and realize that I’m not far behind Steven, either.

Spurred on, its back down, but into a severe head wind! I hear the marshal laughing (or is that the howling wind, again? the sound has been ringing in my ears for five hours almost!) as I try to reconnect with the ground having been blown clear. Take a note of the time to see how far Wonderwoman is behind. About a minute and a half. Oh hell - and she’s probably a fell runner - I really have to push this descent. A bit scary, with hips and elbows still open from the bike crash a fall would really be painful, so I’m totally focused all the way down. I get a load of people still on their way up (and some blokes coming down past me), congratulate me – I’ve got tunnel vision though, and hardly acknowledge.

At last I reach flat ground, risk a look backwards - no sight - and push hard over the soggy fields. I’m feeling strong still, just weather beaten! A wrong turn costs me a few hundred meters and brings my chaser into sight. But I can see the town and the finish too. She can’t make up the distance - can she? Run hard along the final stretch of road, to the finish.

What a race -I am exhausted by the efforts, the mental strain, the cold. Very happy to have stuck it out. On the car ride back, we agreed - we'll do it again. Both Steven and I have had wins here - it'd be good to get them in the same year! And it would be such a pleasure, in good conditions!


Jo Carritt About the Author
Joanna Carritt was the 2008 age-group European Ironman Champion. She has a PB of 9:43:19, achieved at Ironman Germany 2008, in what was her fourth Ironman event. For more information about Joanna go to: www.joannacarritt.co.uk

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