….You do Ampleforth mountain bike triathlon at your own risk. That is, risk to health and sanity. In the 14-odd years I’ve been a Harrier I’ve done some daft things, but this was El Supremo.
It all started last summer; I took our cat to Julian the Vet for her annual health check. He’d become keen on mountain bike triathlons and gave me the fatal website address: www.ukmbtri.co.uk. The cat was fine, a bit plump but aren’t we all from time to time.
Sonja also figures here. In the winter I’d been swimming on Sonja’s recommendation, and I thought I’d become pretty OK at front crawl. I’d told Sonja I fancied having a go at a triathlon but I’d not done anything about it.
On Easter Monday I happened to look at Ukmbtri website and, lo and behold, Ampleforth mountain bike triathlon was in a few days’ time and entries closed that very day. The website was full of pictures of intrepid men, and women with figures far better than mine, running up Lakeland fells in glorious sunshine. So, feeling all Chariots of Fire, I entered on the spot. I can do 20 lengths of a pool, I can do 14k on my bike and I can run 5k, no problem. No time to worry (or train) and, anyway, the potential effect of putting all these together never entered my head.
Saturday 14th April, 7.00 am. Woke up feeling rather excited at the idea of getting some decent exercise having been pretty desk-bound that week. Stephan had spruced up my 1990 Giant Super-Heavyweight bike (only two chain rings working but thankfully including Granny gear) and I was raring to go.
The event HQ was at St Albans centre and the walk from the car park to the HQ took us up the steep steps adjacent the even steeper grassy hill. Surely those couldn’t be run and bike route signs leading vertically upwards? The weather had turned and the temperature had plummeted to 3 degrees. I parked my bike in the transition and, waiting for the briefing and checking out fellow competitors, I started to feel not just a bit anxious. They all looked like the Lakeland athletes. I donned my tri suit (not my best look) that I’d last worn in 2006 for Wiggington duathlon and waited, increasingly nervously, for it all to start.
The swim was OK but, despite my best efforts at front crawl, I was still going more side-to-side than forwards so switched to breast-stroke and did much better. Then – shock – out of the warm pool in wet suit and into the freezing cold sleet and icy wind. Put on a couple of layers as quickly as possible, onto the bike and – yes, it was terrifyingly true – the route was straight down the grass field circa 1 in 2. As I clung desperately to my brakes the full horror hit me – what the *%!@ am I doing? Just as I’d set off I’d recognised in the crowd one of the medical staff at my doctors, whose husband and son were competing, and the look she’d given me was one of astonishment, pity, and expectation of medical emergency.
The 14k bike ride in the Ampleforth woods was, without doubt, one of the most terrifying, painful and exhausting things I’ve done in my life. Steep – really steep – and narrow downhills, skidding through mud and clinging to brakes for dear life. Equally steep, narrow and muddy uphills. As I approached a particularly impossible one, a marshall said, “everyone’s walked this so far” – as though I might be the first to try my luck at riding it?? I had to literally haul myself up the bank, with my bike on my shoulder, any minute about to fall backwards in the mud, bike crashing down on top of me.
Hurtling out of control down a 1 in 1 bank of mud and brambles with the lake at the bottom, I really thought I was in for a ducking. At least though a good excuse for a rest.
These were the good bits; even worse were the main tracks where you had chance to do some decent cycling but froze to death in the sub-zero wind chill. Of course, I didn’t have the right kit. It had never occurred to me that over-trousers, jacket, gloves and front and rear mudguards might not only be useful but essential. The best treat was the relentless spray of mud straight into my face, lodging tiny parcels of grit into unprotected contact lenses.
If you approached a fellow cyclist, the rule was to call “track” and pass them in a smooth and controlled manner. At one point, working as hard as possible to save myself from hypothermia, I’d gained on a cyclist and called “track”; but then, embarrassingly, I didn’t have enough energy to pass them.
At last the St Alban’s centre appeared, only another mile to go. Unfortunately, half of that was back up the 1 in 2 grass bank. I can hardly describe the pain of pushing my bike back up. Stephan and a crowd of sadistic but cheerful onlookers were all calling “push, harder, come on, just one more push, you can do it” as though I was giving birth. The last bit of the hill really did need a superhuman effort but I was over it and into the transition. I said to Steph – “I want to go home now” but he said no, you have to run 5k.
Well, somehow I got round the 5k but it wasn’t running; nothing below the waist was working. There was a girl just ahead of me who kept walking but I just couldn’t gain on her. Climbing back up the steep steps to the finish she was even walking backwards, hands on hips, in as much pain as I was, but I still couldn’t catch her. However, one way or another, I finished the event in 2 hours 3 minutes, plastered in mud from head to foot.
Back home, time for refuelling:
Aperitifs: 1 litre of orange juice; 1 bottle of Crabbies ginger beer
Entrée: Bag of McCoys crinkle crisps (large size, extra fat and salt)
Main: Two massive bowls of pasta bolognese
Dessert: ¾ fruit cake (large); 7/8 Galaxy bar (large).
Passing out in a haze of carbohydrate poisoning, I recalled asking one of the Lakeland chaps whether this was a typical mountain bike tri. “Oh sure”, he said, “it’s a proper one – I’d say it’s the toughest course in the series.”
Ah. I blame the cat, Julian, Sonja and Chariots of Fire, in that order.
Regards Cath Lumb