For several years I had heard good things about the Always Aim High events in that they were well organised but challenging races, so I entered their ‘Slateman’ classic event on Sunday 20th May. Having completed a recce of the course with the rest of the Racepace crew several weeks before I knew what was in store and the possibility the swim could be one of the coldest I had done. As a coach and athlete, where possible I like to recce an event beforehand. It allows the time to take in the nuances of the course, whether that be the best place to take on fuel, how fast the descents can be taken and more importantly on a course like this one how long the climbs are. Luckily the last weeks worth of warm weather had warmed the lake up to a barmy 14degrees come race morning, although getting in there just before 9.35 it didn’t feel so warm.
The swim was a simple 1000m course and I got myself set-up on the left side of the swim course thinking this was the most direct route to the first turn buoy. I got a great start and soon found a fast pair of feet to swim on, unfortunately for me these swam away and I was left by myself until the first turn where luck would have it my team mate, and strong swimmer, Samantha joined me. Knowing how strong Samantha is in open water I made the decision to swim on her feet, confident that she would be sighting well I just got my head down and stuck on her feet. Coming in to the finish we caught up with the back end of the first men’s wave and unfortunately I lost Samantha’s feet for the last 25m or so. There was a relatively long run into transition but with a well practised transition I was in and out onto the bike in no time.
The bike course for Slateman can only be described as undulating and with what felt like a continual headwind, the 51km was a good test. Coming down the final hill back into Llanberis I caught and was caught one other female athletes. Having had experience like this before I wanted to ensure I had a clear run into transition so made sure I made the dismount line first, making sure it was clean and quick. Leaving transition I felt good, legs weren’t too bad and I knew this is where, in the past, mentally I’ve let myself down. Knowing all this I was determined to push myself as hard as possible all the way to the finish. As with the bike course I was glad I had already completed the run course a few weeks ago as after a run out along the road it hits the slopes of the slate quarry and just goes up. From this point on it was all about keeping ‘on top of myself’. Not letting myself back down when it started to hurt, telling myself this was how it was supposed to feel and I think this is where a lot of athletes need improvement. By allowing yourself to concentrate on how hard it is, your body will back off and go into protective mode until it feels like it has recovered. By getting your mind over this and pushing on it will amaze you how much more there is to give, so my mantra for the run was ‘Suck it up’.
Crossing the finish line as 6th woman I was more than happy with how I executed the whole race and feel even more confidence for the rest of the season.
Today was Slateman, I’m not going to lie this week I have had to talk myself into looking forward to it, but in the end I was. We have recced the route, I know my swim will be fine because out of everyone I can deal with the cold, and it’s only 1000m!
The swim was cold, but game on! I set off next to team mate Sarah and she swam left or did I swim right? I knew there was another lady just to my right, she was closer, so I picked her and swam over to take her draft with someone else on my feet. As we closed in on the first bouy, Sarah came across and dropped in next to me, then behind after the bouy. Then we came across some yellow hats..... what’s going on????? Oh yes the first wave was elites and savage, so these are just the slower men. Right crack on. I had a great swim weaving around the men and using the lady in front to sight and draft - I was third lady out of the swim!
Fast transition and on to the bike, take it easy.... but not too easy, Sarah goes past and another girl and another, after 8 I vow to stop counting. It doesn’t matter I just have to do my best, climb this hill. Boom over the top, I’m concentrating well, descending well, and then the fast, flat road. It then turns undulating and I don’t seem to be able to get myself going, but I concentrate on being smooth and efficient, I’m trying my best, keep it up!
I managed to finish the bike still positive, and ready for the run. T2, and then off onto the run! Feeling confident and controlled I know what I have to do, get up the hill, then do my best going down. I did so well running all the way despite in some parts people walking faster than I was running, but I focused on what I know I need to do and that is build my running strength ready for Glasgow so keep going, the descending wasn’t as fast as the recce because I was on shaky legs but I pushed as hard as I could. Once I hit the road with about 1/2 a mile to go I actually found a rhythm... typical, but I finished strong. So I’m happy I did my best. I finish 21st lady in a time of 3.15.28.
While the Slateman Triathlon is still a relatively early season event I had done some good, specific preparation for it and in the days before the race I was raring to go! The invaluable, helpful team around me had all assisted in the preparation leading to me feeling very ready to go. Obviously, firstly my coach Rodge with specific training sessions to prepare for the course and planning a group recce for the event a few weeks ago. In addition I'd borrowed a disc wheel from a friend (cheers Ben!), the legend that is Pete Jepson had fettled my bike to be in top condition, I'd had a massage with the one and only Jane in Longridge earlier in the week and I travelled down to North Wales on the Saturday with my Mum to stay with family who live about 30 minutes away from Llanberis. Everything had been put in to place to give my best performance and hopefully be right up there fighting for the win.
Sunday morning arrived and after my porridge with banana and a short drive to the event I was registered and racked without any delays. I did a quick warm up jog around the first and last stints of the run route to check exactly where I was heading and where the finish was. I was soon into my Arena wetsuit and ready for the suit's first competitive outing. The lake was fresh at around 14 degrees but considerably warmer than when we recced it a few weeks ago. I was in wave 1 and at 9:30am we were off - the very early stages were above my race pace to get myself into some clear water as planned. Before long I settled to my 1km race pace and got into a good rhythm, and moved into the lead, sighting every 10 strokes or so to ensure I was always on the shortest line. I felt good and exited the water first with around a 30s lead and around 80s over the first main group with some of the main contenders. A slick transition and I was out onto the bike and pretty much straight into a headwind. As planned I took it steady for a couple of minutes to find my legs but didn't actually feel that great. However I was soon into some kind of rhythm and before long was onto the slog that was Pen-y-Pass.
After the pass there were some really fast sections with a decent tailwind, smooth tarmac and the disc wheel flying along. Around half way through the bike leg I was battling a stiff headwind when I realised two other athletes had caught me up. For the remainder of the bike leg the lead changed a few times with Jack Hindle often leading the climbs and myself keeping more momentum on the faster downhill sections and several times spinning out my top gear. Close to the end on a tough drag on some grippy tarmac the third athlete, Pete Dyson, threw down a challenge and raised the pace, trying to build a lead before we got back to T2. Luckily I had the strength to follow the pace and keep myself in the race, although not without working fairly hard. Before long the three of us were back into T2 close together and I was quickly out on the run course with a narrow lead.
I focussed on getting my cadence going and not pushing too hard - it was going to be a long and tough 11km! Jack and Pete soon came past me and this time I had to focus on executing my own race, knowing I simply wouldn't be able to maintain the pace they were running at. It remained to be seen whether they could, and I kept that in mind, knowing I wasn't necessarily out of the running just yet. Having prepared so thoroughly and discussed tactics with Rodge regarding trying to win the race I did find it difficult watching the other two running away and quickly stretching out a lead on the first, and relatively flat, section of the run.
A combination of not feeling great, and watching the leaders run away did mean I started to feel a little bit negative, and that was to be my challenge. As I laboured up the steep climb through the slate mines I was able to turn my mentality back around and focussed on simply giving my best and running as best I could all the way to the line. The second half of the run was more to my favour with some technical off road sections and some fast downhill stints. My legs were feeling it but I didn't deviate from my aim and pushed hard all the way to the line, finally finishing in 3rd position in 2:31:21, behind too strong athletes.
In summary I would say I was pleased with my performance, satisfied with the result, and really happy that I overcame the negatives I was feeling during the run to finish strongly and keep fighting right to the line.
Set in Snowdonia National Park and with Snowdon itself looking down on all the competitors this was always going to be an event to remember.
I travelled down on the Saturday and registered in the afternoon which gave me plenty of time to check out transition and get a feel for the race. After staying over that night Sunday morning came around quick and the usual breakfast and nutrition routine kicked in. Leaving the camp site, I was down to transition in no time. I had an ideal position in transition with my bike being on the end of a rack so very easy for me to locate, both out the swim and coming in off the bike.
14 degrees we were all told for the water temperature and I was off in wave 4 at 9.45am so a decent start time (not 7am which means you get up at 4am to eat). A very relaxed start to the morning all things considered. Toes in, legs, body, neck and then face, wow that was cold….keep the breathing under control. Never 14 degrees it was rather chilly. Kept persevering and ducking under the water and finally it felt slightly better. To the start line and 3-2-1 go. Got a good start and put 40-50 fast stokes in to get away from the majority in my wave and to get the heart pumping a little to get some heat in me. 19m 29s later I was out of the water and into transition. Quickly got my bike and out on the road.
Having done the bike course I knew what to expect and as we I approached the foot of the mountain I was focused (had warmed up and taken on board fluid) and ready to climb at the right tempo as talked about with my coach. Summitting the top I must have passed 30-40 riders and then down the other side at speed. The bike leg seemed to go by in no time and I was arriving in Llanberis feeling good and now focusing on the dismount, quick T2 and the run. 1hr 33m 37s for my bike. Very happy with this as the bike is an area where I am trying to improve on.
Out on the run and immediately my legs felt good, I probably mean that they felt better off the bike than my last 2 races which have both been duathlons, so they had not had the battering of a run already. Again, I got the blood flowing in my legs and let them settle into a decent pace down to the start of the quarry climb. Ran all the way up and picked the best lines to make the climb as short as possible – every metre counts. Flowing again as we ran across the plateau and took some fluid on at the drink station, I also had 1 last gel to give me a boost for the last 30mins. Down through the forest which was hard on the legs and they were now starting to cry for help, put that to the back of my mind and I finished as fast as my legs would allow. Collapsed on the floor as I usually do and inhaled the grass. Run time of 59m 46s.
Overall the race was brilliant, a real good event to have completed and another one under my belt. A good weekend with my team mates and we all had extremely good performances. 4 races completed so far this year and all of them have been new events. In a couple of weeks, I am returning to compete at Chester Diva triathlon – can’t wait.