Bala Middle Distance Triathlon – 8 June 2008

This is a *huge* report, firstly written by David and then followed by Sharon’s report towards the end.

Just over a year ago I took part in my first triathlon. Now it was time to step it up to something comparable to a half-ironman distance event – the Bala Middle Distance Triathlon – consisting of a 2km swim, 82km bike and 20km run. Nothing like doing things in small measures eh!

“A big challenge set in an outstanding location, twice serving as the National Middle Distance championships, Bala Lake in June must be one of the most impressive venues for a longer distance event. The race revolves around the lake with the bike traversing large parts of Snowdonia National Park and the run following the lake shoreline before a brutal climb into the foothills of the Arans. Not a race for the fainthearted, all who have finished this event know that they are on their way to further adventures in long distance triathlon.”

Firstly, this report is long – very long, and secondly it is going to mention the word “Pirates” an awful lot! If you don’t know who/what the pirates are, then I suggest you have a read of the PSOF website and also this article at Runners World – you’ll then understand a little more about who we are…

“Is it a club? No, but it is a group of loyal and like-minded people. Is it a joke? No, but it is a laugh. Is it an attitude? Yes. And that attitude echoes the Ironman brand – Anything is Possible – then adds its own rider, ‘if you believe in yourself’. But what sets the Pirates apart is their sense of fun. They have turned into a huge presence within the world of triathlon, a world that can sometimes appear to the newcomer to be a little po-faced. Commentators, organisers and crowds at Ironman events around the world acknowledge the yellow and black kit both on and off the course – the supporters’ wear their own pirate gear with pride and a great deal of noise.”

In the words that follow I’m going to refer to people by their forum names, so that people know who I’m talking about and also to protect the identities of these squashbuckling adventurers! Positions that I give in the report that relate to the pirates are based on the results list (the event was the Bala Middle Distance race) and those who put they club down as PSOF.

Firstly, my recent training has been going reasonably well. I lost a month of running back in March/April but kept up with swimming/cycling. The run-up to this event was interesting – last weekend my final session was a 22(ish) mile bike ride closely followed by a 10 mile run – in reality this was me cycling to Dorking for the annual Dorking 10 road running race. I clocked a time of 1:06:48 which after a bike ride I was happy with. The trouble is, my legs were screwed for days after the race. I’ve never had it that bad before (at least I don’t remember it anyway).

I did an easy run on Tuesday (which didn’t do much to improve things) and by Thursday I really needed to get a few more miles in so went out in the sunshine for what turned out to be a lovely 9 mile run. This made a big difference and by Friday I was feeling fine again. Phew…just in time for the weekend…

Mrs Funkin and I drove to Bala on Friday afternoon, arriving at about 7:30pm. We were staying in a caravan in a small town (road) called Fron Goch, about 2.5 miles from Bala. We met up with JulesR and Sheils who were also staying in the caravan (it was a big static three bedroom place) and headed into town for dinner (where we met Gom and his other half who were sat at the next table – I’m getting good at spotting Ironman tattoo’s now). As we were leaving we caught up with Hollywood and Shiraz who had just driven into town and then it was back to the caravan.

Saturday morning dawned and the weather was beautiful – after breakfast Hollywood and JulesR went off for a bike ride whereas Mrs Funkin (er, that’s Sharon), Shiraz and myself chose to have a look at the bike course for Sunday. Because of road-works the bike route had to be changed and rather than a large loop turned into a (much tougher) out-and-back route from Bala to the turnaround at Ganllwyd. The scenery looked lovely, but the hills looked really tough – especially when every downhill you enjoy on the way out turns into a bugger of an uphill on the way back!

After returning to the caravan I headed out for an easy five mile bike ride (also to test out the pirate triathlon outfit that I’d been lent for the race) and then straight into a 2.5 mile easy run. Lunch was had then it was off to the leisure centre in Bala to get signed-in for Sundays race.

After signing in we headed to the waters edge to meet up with quite a few more pirates and to take a quick dip in the lake to get an idea of its temperature/visibility. I’ve done about half a dozen or so open water (lake) swims so far this year and the water felt fine. Visibility was probably about five feet which meant I could at least see the tips of my fingers when swimming, but not much more than that.

After a relaxing day it was back to load up on carbohydrates (a big pasta dinner) and then get a reasonable nights sleep.

Sunday morning dawned – the sky was blue, the sun was shining and I was feeling fine about what was ahead of me. We were all up by about 6:45am (especially when the smoke alarm went off) and after breakfast (porridge with honey for me) we packed the cars and headed to the lake.

I then racked my bike in the transition area and got all my gear ready – cycle gear (helmet, GPS, sunglasses, shoes, socks) and running stuff (shoes, hat). Add a towel, sun cream, energy gels, a ton of home-made flapjacks on the bike and some drink and that’s about it!

The race briefing was at 8:45am which didn’t really tell me much that I didn’t already know (I’d read the race pack and had done a few smaller triathlons before already) but it was good to get a recap on things. After this a final visit to the toilets and then time to get into my wetsuit for the swim.

There were three “waves” of swim and I (senior male) was in the first wave, which started shortly after 9:30am (our camera said 9:38am). There were probably 100 or so people in the water for my start and I stayed close to the starting jetty on the right hand side of the course. My only plan was to relax and not get into any trouble in the first few minutes (the last thing I wanted was for my goggles to get kicked off of me or something). There wasn’t much hanging around for the start and when the horn went I was able to settle into a pace really quickly. The first few hundred metres I drifted a bit too much to the right of the course after hanging on the back of a couple of other swimmers but at least it gave me clear water. I then chose to do all the sighting myself and headed straight for the far marker (which was about 1km from the start). After rounding this and the next far marker I set a course back for shore. I kept my pace consistent, stayed relaxed and only kicked lightly with my legs (as I’d been needing them more later!). I’ve no idea how I was doing in the swim – I just got on with it and kept pushing.

As I left the water I was grateful not to feel dizzy (as has happened recently on a couple of Saturday morning lake swims) and I was able to happily jog to the bike and get out of the wetsuit. I gave my feet a bit of a dry on the towel, put the bike shoes, gloves, sun-glasses and helmet on and then it was off to the bike mount point. I could clearly see Mrs Funkin cheering me on and taking photos. After reading reports from last year and speaking to people, a nice easy gear to start the bike is important – as it’s a little incline as you head onto the road – and with about 100 people watching and cheering you it could be embarrassing! There was plenty of pirate support as I started the bike and I made sure I smiled whenever possible (especially if I saw a camera!).

Swim time – approximately 34:20 (this is from looking at the times from our photos).
Swim time & T1 (transition to bike) – 37:17 (92nd overall out of 370 swimmers – 4th pirate).

T1 was therefore approx 2:57.

A year ago I’d never swum in a lake before and now I’m swimming 2k in races – and comfortably at that. My swim (and T1) was comfortably in the top third which I am super happy with. I’m also really pleased that my swim/T1 time was only 3:36 slower than Hollywood, although I did hear he spent *ages* faffing around trying to get out of his wetsuit.

As I headed onto the bike I was feeling comfortable – the main plan was to ride steady (as there’s a 13 mile run at the end!) and make sure I kept the cadence up as best as possible going up the hills. There were lots of other cyclists around me and supporters/marshals in the town and after a couple of minutes we were off riding up the first hill and out into the countryside.

Well, at this point things took a turn for the worse. About one mile in for one reason or another I managed to ride/bump into the grassy verge on the left hand side of the road. It was only a slight little ‘bump’ and the wheels still turned (that’s a good thing) and in no time I was back pedalling again, but now the rear gears were slipping from one cog to the next. I went through most of the gears to make sure they were all there and working but on both sets of gears (big and little cog) there were a few gears that wouldn’t constantly stay in gear. Do I stop, do I try and work out what’s wrong, I thought maybe I could just tighten/loosen the gear adjustment cable at the back of the bike, I just wasn’t sure. In the end I chose to do nothing and just pedal on. The wheels turned, and the gears slipping wasn’t all the time! Damn it – why did this have to happen so early on the bike route.

The first few miles were pleasant enough – a few little inclines but nothing horrific. I was happy with how I was riding, even if I was being overtaken a lot by other cyclists.

Before long I saw the first pirate ‘skull and crossbones’ drawn in chalk on the road – awesome! I was a pirate and this was for me (oh, and the others!). Over the past couple of years I’ve got more and more into watching road cycling races and to see this (OK, its not quite on the same scale) on the road reminded me of Le Tour (other than I cycle at half the speed of the pro’s)! There was pirate support I think on a couple of points on the first few miles, one of them had their car boot open with a big pirate flag showing, which looked awesome.

After about 18 miles (29km) we turn just outside of Trawsfynydd onto the A470 main road to Bron Aber – and it was a more enjoyable ride – OK, the scenery wasn’t so good and there were more cars around but at least there were no significant uphill sections. You eventually hit a long downhill straight where you get some great speed up and then head towards the turnaround point (and water change-over). Mrs Funkin was standing near the turnaround point with camera and was cheering on people as we cycled past.

At the turnaround I swapped one empty bottle of Lucozade Sport (just under a litre’s worth) for a bottle of water. I’d had a couple of energy gels at this point and washing them down with Lucozade gets a bit tough after a while.

Nutrition wise, I took gels at about 0:45, 1:20, 1:50, 2:20 ish., and had just over 1.5 litres of Lucozade Sport and I guess 750ml of water. I also had some lovely flapjacks that were made by Shiraz – although as the bike went on I wasn’t enjoying them quite as much as I did at the start of the ride. In the last hour I didn’t have any flapjack and just took the final gel (at 2:20) and water/Lucozade Sport.

From here on in the ride seemed to get tougher. A long uphill followed between 26 and 32 miles and I watched lots of people come past me. After turning right back onto the road to Bala the scenery improved once again but the hills got steeper. There was one notable hill at around 38 miles which was an absolute killer – by this point it was about 2 hours 15 minutes into the ride (about 12:30pm) and the temperature was in the mid-20’s. At the top of the hill was Sheils standing by her car cheering the cyclists on. I’m sure I muttered expletives at that point!

From here on in it was undulating all the way back to Bala. When I saw the sign for Fron Goch I was really happy as I knew it was only a couple of miles back to transition. I made sure I’d drunk as much as I could before starting the run. Just before the turn into T2 I saw Sheils again and said something along the lines of “Thank god that’s over!”. I headed into T2, smiling at the pirate supporters. I guess around 40 or 50 people went past me on the bike. I didn’t overtake any people at all on the bike. Something wasn’t right.

Pirate support was once again fantastic as I pulled in to dismount. I then jogged with the bike to the rack, hung it up, took off the GPS off of the bike and onto my wrist, helmet/shoes/gloves off, running shoes and hat on – and then off onto the run. My T2 time I believe was pretty quick.

Bike time & T2 (transition to run) – 3:05:13 (260th, 15th pirate).

For info on the bike my average heart rate was 148bpm and it maxed at 169bpm.

Post race bike update – it turns out that my rear wheel is slightly buckled and this was the cause of the gears slipping. In addition to this everytime the wheel rotated, at one part it would push against one of the rear brake pads and try and stop the wheel – making it that much tougher! At least I know next year (yes, I’m thinking about next year already) I should go faster (hopefully they’ll keep the same tough bike route next year). I will also do more quality (i.e., hill) training sessions on the bike as that’s one thing I didn’t do enough of this time.

As I headed onto the run in one hand I had (yet another) energy gel (which I stuffed in my shorts for later) and in the other hand some sun-cream, which I managed to put on (reasonably well) whilst running – that is until I got it all over my watch!

I always find that I can put in a pretty quick pace at the start of the run and when I do this things normally go wrong, so this time I made sure to reign myself in and head off steadily. The first half mile is mostly on grass/mud and is rather bumpy – you then head onto some pavement and then onto a little country lane, which is lovely and smooth – but the road is continually up and down for about 6 miles – there’s not a single flat bit in sight!

After about 2 miles I stopped for a my first “comfort break” of the day (that is ignoring the one during the swim when I didn’t stop!!) – then it was back to the running. I tried to run comfortably and planned to keep to a pace around 7:30-8:00 minute miling. The run course was pretty tough – they are only little hills but they’re never ending – up, down, up down…. There were lots of twists and turns and a lot of people were walking up the hills. I’d offer words of encouragement whenever possible.

After the disappointment of watching so many cyclists fly past me earlier this was my time for payback – and I’d say over the course of the run I got past about 20 or so people. I took the run really steady throughout – and made sure I took advantage of all of the water stops. There were I believe five water stops and I took water at each one – it was about 2pm in the afternoon at this point and the sun was blazing down with little or no shade. I didn’t stop when taking water and just chose to continue running and take careful sips (one tip I read somewhere was to squeeze the cup together to make a kind of spout, so that you can hang onto the water for longer and take small sips without it going everywhere).

Before long the leaders of the race were coming back the other way and they were flying – great stuff.

Just before 6 miles in I saw Hollywood coming the other way and he said something along the lines of “….just around the corner – about 200 metres away”. This I thought was him jokingly telling me where the turnaround point was – which I knew was much further away. What it turned out to be was him telling me where Mrs Funkin was (she’d planned to see me about half-way into the run – or did she say she’d see me at the finish – I can’t remember!). Well, I did come across a bunch of pirate supporters (it’s great when you see them in the distance, as they then see you (the yellow top is probably a giveaway!), and then direct all their attention/cameras/cheering at you. You can’t help but smile and wave, no matter how tough things are. As I ran past there was no sign of Mrs Funkin so I guess she was waiting for me at the finish. Little did I know that she was nearby chasing a runaway car and thinking that I had fallen off my bike (you can read that bit in her report later!).

At the turnaround point – all that bloody running in the sun just to run round a traffic cone in the road (!!!) – I grabbed some water and walked for maybe five steps. That was the only time I didn’t run.

On the way back I overtook at least two pirates, and saw endless numbers of them coming the other way. Whenever I saw one in the distance coming towards you the two of you kind of drift into the middle of the road – raise a hand and “high-five” each other. This together with the war-cry of “Go Pirate!”. It’s a strange thing…

The road we were running on is very narrow, and in some places wide enough for just one car. On top of this a local resident seemed to be having some sort of garden party which may have explained the large number of cars on the road. There was also a big truck with the word “horses” on the back or something which caused all sorts of chaos. On a couple of occasions I had to squeeze around cars and duck under wing mirrors – it was that tight! When you got clear road it was lovely (apart from the hills) but there were a few tricky spots.

As you head back alongside Bala lake (albeit up in the mountains somewhere!) you occasionally hear the local steam train passing close by – more importantly I could see in the distance the inflatable finishing arch and could hear announcements over the tannoy system. We’re nearly there…. The final couple of miles were OK, and in the final mile you leave the little country lane, cross a road bridge and then go back onto the grass/mud that started the run. You then head into the finishing straight and your eyes are drawn to a sea of yellow – yup, you guess it – the pirate support crew.

To a mass of cheers (including of course from Mrs Funkin, who was very pleased to see me in one piece) I smiled, waved, and ran straight past them to the finish. I crossed the line comfortably, made really good friends with the lady who was handing out water and tried to relax. It was now just after 3pm, some 5 hours 23 minutes after starting. Mrs Funkin came over to the finish line where I met her and then we headed back to see the rest of the supporters.

My run time was 1:40:58 which is an accurate run time (i.e., doesn’t include transition). This does include a quick toilet break however! I was 94th fastest in the run. For info my run splits (per mile) were as follows: (1) 7:35, (2) 8:09, (3) 7:35, (4) 8:15, (5) 8:23, (6) 9:28, (7) 8:32, (8) 7:44, (9) 8:16, (10) 8:04, (11) 8:16, (12) 7:50, (12.36) 2:42. My average heart rate was 158bpm and it maxed at 172bpm (right at the finish). Even on the big hill half way in I kept my effort steady and it peaked at about 165bpm.

Run – 1:40:58 (94th, 4th pirate).

Overall time – 5:23:28 (157th overall, 7th pirate).

For info, the overall winner (Mark Stenning of Swindon Tri) finished in 4:03:59 (swim: 26:18, bike: 2:23:20, run 1:14:21) and first lady (Louise Collins) who finished 22nd overall (including the two relay teams ahead of her) in a time of 4:34:36.

When we reached the supporters someone took a photo of me who looked familiar – it turned out to be Marc and Julia from our local running clubs, who were starting a weeks holiday in Wales and decided to stop by and see the finish. It was really bizarre to be see someone you least expected there and was really nice of them. Thanks you two.

We then watched and cheered more and more finishers in – it was great. A little while later it was time to cool my legs down and head for the ice bath – i.e., Lake Bala where Hollywood and myself sat at the waters edge whilst Shiraz had a quick swim. It was lovely and no doubt did me the world of good. I then had time for a quick shower and made it back in time for the prize giving at 5pm – at this point there were still people out on the run course – for some it would be a very very long day.

Straight after the prize-giving we got together as many of us as possible for a team photo – if only I could remember who half of them are! Maybe if I enter the Vitruvian Long Distance Triathlon I can meet them again (oh dear, what am I thinking of here)…. We then headed off on our merry way back to London, together with a scheduled stop for fish and chips en route. Mrs Funkin drove back whilst I enjoyed the rest. We got home at around 11pm on Sunday night.

Monday morning at 7:30am I was back to reality and sat on a Piccadilly line London Underground train heading to the big smoke. I had the rest of my bike flapjack for a morning snack, and for dinner I polished off the lasagne from Saturday night. Sharon on the other hand took my wheel to the local bike shop to be ‘un-buckled’. What a weekend that was…

Sharon’s (er, Mrs Funkin’s) report…

My first “proper” Pirate outing started on arrival at the caravan, meeting JulesR and Sheils (his partner), we headed out for dinner and accidentally met Gom and Mrs Gom in the pub having tea – started to get excited! Soon afterwards Hollywood and Shiraz arrived, we know these scallywags well ;) in fact Holly is the reason Funkin did a tri in the first place…

Saturday was fairly uneventful, some biking for Hollywood, Jules and Sheils, a leisurely drive of the bike course for Funkin and Shiraz (with me in the back sussing out where I would try and support from). A bit of a run, followed by a bit of a lake dip (Shiraz and Hollywood not wearing wetsuits! Mad things!), then some chilling, dinner and preparation for the Big Day. Oh and regular weather checks (someone who will remain nameless became slightly obsessed with the weather!)…

Sunday morning dawned slightly misty and damp but sunny. Various breakfasts were consumed. Then we were off. General milling about, some marking up, sun cream, body glide, blah blah…you know the ritual. Some good luck hugs for Funkin, Shiraz and Holly and before I knew it I was up above the holding pen for the swim. I wondered where the sheep dog was to be honest, when they were all huddled in there. Suddenly they were off. It hadn’t seemed so far to the outer buoy until they actually started swimming, then it seemed flipping miles!

I walked down to the side of transition after we had cheered everyone off on The swim. First pirates out were Hollywoord and Iron Rose, neck and neck, however Hollywood took slightly longer in transition having a cup of tea and a piece of cake – *ahem* not strictly true…next out was Funkin, then Gom, then I lost track.

The downside of being a pirate supporter newbie is that I don’t know who everyone is. I took lots of pics though, so I hope to be able to identify some people from them. Shiraz was about 6th lady out, beating a serious amount of the 2nd wave men. Awesome swimming :)

After I had seen Shiraz get out and whizz off on her bike, I headed off to the car. I had a cunning plan to get me to the turning point for the bike – and for once it worked! I drove around the bit of the old course that wasn’t the course this year and screeched into a lay-by just as the leaders came down the hill. I had a little spot just up from the turning pointing, where I took heaps of pics, shouted to lots of Pirates and cheered on as many as I could who weren’t Pirates too of course! I also seemed to then become litter monitor as I got gel wrappers and bottles chucked at me on the way up ;) First Pirate was Iron Rose, then Hollywood, then Funkin…then again I get confused, I managed to see JulesR though, who was looking really comfortable and waited for Shiraz to come through. After she had appeared, also looking strangely comfortable, I then zoomed off to the halfway point on the run.

I didn’t quite get to the halfway bit, I saw some Pirates sitting having lunch at what transpired to be about 6 miles in. At this point I thought I would get a drink, as I was sorting that out, the car suddenly started to move off down the hill! Eeeek! I ran along the side of it and jumped in, luckily. Phew. New max HR methinks…where’s the 305 when you need it?

Anyway, back to the supporting. A few more Pirate supporters arrived at this point. The marshal was almost run over by a Micra. It was all action packed. Once again, Iron Rose appeared first, then we had to wait a while for the next Pirate. We had a bit of friendly reciprocal boo’ing with some TriTalkers (all taken in the spirit in which it was intended I think)… Hollywood appeared, then a few more Pirates including JulesR and Calf. Then I started to get really really worried. No Funkin yet. I know it’s silly but I really thought he had come a cropper on the bike. I was really panicking and decided I would head back to the finish to see if he was in a scabby, bleeding heap somewhere. Many thanks to whoever it was from that support group who texted Mrs Gom to let me know he was safe. Apologies to everyone for all my twittering and worrying. Turned out his back wheel is somewhat worse for wear after clipping the kerb in the first mile. Anyway…

So, at the finish line, it was great fun (once I knew Funkin was safe!). The Pirate contingent really is quite a sight to behold. Every Pirate got a huge cheer, every other finisher got a cheer/clap/well done. I was really quite emotional. I got more emotional when I saw Hollywood come in, he had finally been overtaken on the run by Calf. A couple more Pirates came along and then in the distance I could recognise the running style of my very own Pirate. I ran down to the finish line after he had gone past us and could see that he seemed OK, was chatting away, having a drink. Once we had said hello (and I had shed a sneaky little tear), we walked up to the Pirate area and carried on cheering people in.

I think the biggest cheer of the day was saved for Squishy. She got quite a greeting, let me tell you! I was very proud to be a teeny part of something so special. I know this is a bit “gushy” but I really mean it. The support that the Pirates offer each other (and others) is phenomenal. Truly fantastic. What a weekend. I fear, however, that I have lost Funkin to the dream of doing an Ironman…I guess being a triathlon widow isn’t so bad after all…? Someone convince me :) Please…

Finally, we took over 200 photographs this weekend, with most of them taken by Sharon – with our ‘more personal set’ found over at Sharon’s gallery and a more generic set over at rowephoto.co.uk – together with links to full resolution versions.

5 comments on “Bala Middle Distance Triathlon – 8 June 2008
  1. H says:

    Congrats once more on finishing – and on finishing at such a speed (I was crawling along by the time I got to the last mile!)

    Shame about the mechanical issues on the bike – those hills were bad enough without extra resistance….

    But superb swim and (more than anything else) superb pirating from Sha/MrsF – really getting into the pirate spirit – including letting the car go off by itself – very piratey.

    Also such a shame you’re not doing ironman – you both showed such promise….

    P.S. Can’t believe you’ve written all this and no-one else has commented yet – I guess they’re all still just reading through it :-)

  2. Amazing!

    I can’t believe you ran the half so fast! That was a scorcher of a day – you must be in amazing shape. Oh, and good save on the car Mrs F

  3. Kirsty says:

    Awesome swimbling, cycling and running from Mr F and awesome piratey supporting from Mrs F. It’s great how the sun always shines in Wales isn’t it? Excellent reportage from both Funkins and Hollywood was right – it’s taken me this long to read it all!

  4. Danny Boy says:

    Finally finished this!

    Well done Mr D! Now a whole Ironman please…

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