Stages 1-10 of the ITERA were a little different...from the 11th-15th August I was making my way across Wales by foot, bike and kayak from Caernarfon to Cardiff . I was racing with Tim Higginbottom, Chris Near and Bruce Duncan as Team Haglofs Silva UK.
The race started on the Saturday evening with a fast and furious prologue in Cardiff, a 10km run around the bay stopping off at the white water centre to get a bit wet. Unfortunately, within 500m it was very obvious that my lungs were having a bad day, making running fast rather difficult. We got round, 7minutes or so down on the leaders, Team Adidas Terrex. This time would be multiplied by 3 and serve as a penalty in the main race.
|White Water Centre....I am in the boat, honest!|
Thankfully by the time we'd caught the coach up to Caernarfon on Sunday, I was feeling a lot better.
|The Start in Caernarfon Castle|
A couple of laps of the walls and it was into kayaks, up the Menai straits to Bangor. There was a big tide and the wind was behind us, making this far faster than on our training weekend in May which was straight into a headwind.
Originally we were going to paddle to Conwy, however given the conditions post hurricane Bertha it was onto the bikes from Bangor to Conwy, pretty much cycling past Chris' front door. So far, our pre race training had been very relevant!
At Conwy we did a short orienteering section around the castle, baffling tourists along the way. Then it was back on the bikes for a trip to Zip World.
|Me and Chris heading down the zip line at Zip World|
Zip World is the longest zip line in Europe. Heading down through a quarry and over a lake, you reach speeds of up to 100mph! As with jumping off cliffs into water, this doesn't rate as one of my favourite activities in every day life, however it certainly was a highlight of the race! Having done it, I'd certainly give it another run :-).
|Arriving at Ogwen (Photo Mick Kenyon)|
At this stage we were a bit unsure where we stood in terms of race time as we'd had a timed out section at Zipworld (as had Adidas and Sweco, the two teams to arrive there ahead of us), but we were all there for different lengths of time. So we made quick work of Tryfan and Glyder Fawr in an effort to catch back up to the teams ahead, reaching Pen Y Pass just ahead of Sweco. Time for a bit of a race up Snowdon. We aimed to summit with enough of a gap that we could disappear off the other side before Sweco summited. In the last of the daylight we did just that and were rewarded with some excellent views of the sunset.
|Setting off from Pen Y Pass with purpose|
|Italy or Wales?|
Heading back with the tide and wind we transitioned onto bikes and headed for Barmouth. Again we set off within a few minutes of Sweco who had arrived at Portmeirion for the orienteering just as we'd started paddling.
|Against the tide and the wind|
I was struggling with climbs at this point, now taking ventolin ever 4hrs in a bid to keep things under control. We got up Cadair Idris ahead of them and put in a good descent to disappear, keeping a good pace for the rest of the stage. By the final two summits I was having some real difficulties, now coughing like I had a chest infection again, almost to the point I couldn't catch a breath. If it had been a fell race and I didn't have Chris towing me up the final summit I'm not sure I would have got up it under my own steam. Thankfully I did have a tow rope and we made it to all the checkpoints and down to transition, where Charlotte checked me over.
|Coming into transition after the trek|
Eventually, at the start of Day 3, we were off on the bikes for the big stage of the race, 220km of MTB with a stop offs at Devils bridge and Elan Valley. Within the first few km we found a nice bit of forest for a quick, well needed sleep.
|The long MTB stage|
|One of very few James Kirby photos in which I am not smiling|
At Elan valley we arrived 15minutes or so behind Sweco and once again, managed to pull back this deficit during the trail run in which we caught and overtook Sweco with the incentive of food and sleep at the end of the run.
At this point, we served a compulsory stop aimed at getting everyone back into race order and time on the ground. We had 1hr42 to eat, sleep and be ready to go again. The eating part didn't go too smoothly for me as, from half way round the trail run, my stomach was now rejecting anything put into it. I think I had enough oxygen to either move forward or digest food.
However, a combination of my inability to eat food and the terrain (some river wading and bracken hacking in the dark) meant the second half of the MTB route took a bit longer than planned. At 7am on Day 4 we had breakfast from a lovely bakery in Builth Wells, just as Sweco caught us once again. After the last stretch of biking, we arrived in Glasbury just as Walhalla, who we hadn't seen for the rest of the race, came flying past. Although we didn't have free sleep, we did have sleep at Galsbury as we all needed it!
|Sleeping arrangements at Glasbury - barely noticed it was raining...|
After 2hours we got up and ready to go down the river Wye. Whilst getting ready to go, I realised my chest was in the worst state yet, I was struggling to breathe just walking about. So another less than slick transition, enough ventolin to send me into uncontrollable shakes and a bit of food and Charlotte gave us the go ahead to leave.
I was now also taking 2 puffs of ventolin every 2hours and this, paired with a less than urgent pace down the river (we almost had a grade one sit on top capsize after Chris fell asleep) gave my breathing a bit of a chance to recover. We passed through Hay on Wye for the street O, picking up some food on the way.
After our drift down the river we hit the bikes with a bit more purpose, trying to get as much out of the remaining daylight as possible. We were sitting in 4th and our target now was to get to the Brecon Beacons and try and reclaim a podium position on the last trek of the race. Thankfully all the ventolin was paying off and my legs had a bit more in them.
What we weren't expecting was to hit the final trek ahead of Sweco, in 3rd. We'd overtaken them at transition strangely, but pressed on to make the most of this advantage. We made it over Fan Y Big but before we reached the top of Cribyn four lights started gaining on us at an insane speed. We couldn't hold them off, so on top of Cribyn we sat down.
Sweco arrived and asked 'is there a control here?'. We gave nothing away, they found the control and headed more slowly down the hill to the col.
It appears their race tactics involved following us, as at the col they stopped to get their maps out. We headed down behind them and got the bivvy out for a 10minute nap to give them a bit of time to do their own thing.
|Classy sleeping location next to the bins|
When we set off again, we thought we were stuck in fourth position. The pace certainly wasn't what it had been, we were tired, Chris had damaged his knee somewhere along the river Wye and the motivation to push hard evaded us a bit. We stopped for another couple of sleeps and after the last of these made a decision to try and move at least a bit better or we wouldn't even be fourth!
So it was a complete surprise to find Sweco leaving the caving section just as we got there. We were then informed that Walhalla were just ahead of them! The race was back on!
A quick whip around the caving and we set off on the final 6km of trekking, overtaking both Sweco and Walhalla along the way to reach the final transition in 2nd.
|Off on the final bike section|
Time for a bit of a rest now before the Mourne Mountain Marathon in September!