Wasdale Half Iron Distance Triathlon - 29 Sep 2013

Tue 15 Oct 2013

Wasdale Half Iron Distance Triathlon

29th September 2013

Lee Pegram


Promoted as being ‘The Worlds hardest Half Iron Triathlon’ this event in Wasdale was going to be my last sporting event for 2013.  Actually it was going to be my last sporting event in 2012 as well, however, severe weather on the day meant that the race had to be cancelled on that horrific morning! As the title suggests this inaugural race was set beneath the towering cliffs of Wasdale Screes in the English Lake District and here is my personal race account.

I arrived in Wasdale following what had already been an amazing but demanding year for me having completed two Ironman events earlier in the season.  And whilst my eagerness to participate had not waned, the continuous training was definitely starting to falter – those 5.00am runs/rides were not quite so attractive and I was starting to falter in doing longer sessions.  So, it was down to body memory and sensible pacing for this one!

Travel logistics and timings meant that I was without family support but it was great that some familiar faces were in this with me through three locally (to Hertford) made up teams taking on the event in relay formation.  However, I was without known friends for the individual competition with Greg (see IM Lanzarote report - who’s initial idea it was to take part in early 2012) having had a serious road bike accident just before Ironman Tenby (he is OK but not race ready).

We arrived at Wasdale around lunchtime on the Saturday and set about the necessary logistics.  From a race perspective this was fairly easy as everything is based between the Wasdale Head Arms pub and the eastern end of Wastwater.  I was based in a National Trust camping pod adjacent to T1/Swim and the others were based in more comfortable accommodation at Nether Wasdale off the western end of Wastwater.  The afternoon and evening was spent going for a brief swim in the lake, road testing the bike, registration and driving most of the infamous road passes.  Albeit not competing I was joined by Greg and his daughter Lilley for the afternoon and top marks for Lilley for joining us for the swim – it was rather bracing…

The Race was scheduled to start at 7.00am on Sunday and it had a 12hr time limit to ensure everyone’s safety of the course before full dusk.  Following a race briefing in T1, where everyone (friends/family) was welcome and a procession march to the waters edge, the 80 or so competitors slide into Wastwater, the coldest and deepest lake in England and tried to catch our breath.  It was indeed cold at around 13 deg C but fortunately very clean.  Very soon we were off following a direct out and back diagonally across the lake.  My swim stroke was found fairly quickly considering the water temperature but I did not feel strong - my arms felt laboured.  On the positive side, with such a wide course and limited competitors, swim space was easy to find so you could concentrate purely on swimming rather than wrestling.   Of note on the return leg the wind was starting to pick up and creating increasing in size waves.

Finally at the waters edge my comedy moment arrived through trying to exit the water.  I crawled as far in as possible then attempted to stand on slippy stones/rocks the result was inevitable - fortunately I didn’t pull the helper back down with me.  Once finally out of the water it was on with the crocs for the 200m run to transition in the adjacent field.  I completed the swim in 52nd position.

Transition was smooth enough with no dramas as the NRCC top went on.  Although my decision to wear a compression vest under my wetsuit was not so great – the dampness on my chest was uncomfortable and despite being a glorious day, it was the end of September and it was going to take a little while to dry out on the bike leg.

Of particular debate for this event was bike selection.  On an initial course recce in 2012 I had taken my road bike with the lowest possible gearing.  I still struggled on the climbs but more concerning was just how difficult it was to control my 90kg on the decent, so for the 2012 race day I arrived with my MTB with slicks and hydraulic disc brakes.  I never got opportunity to trial it.  Feeling braver this year and with good weather forecast I turned up with the road bike, again with the lowest gears placed back on and SPD pedals.  However, a reasonable number of the competitors had indeed opted for MTB’s/hybrids with a greater range of gears and disc brakes with virtually all others opting for road bikes and one or two hard core going with TT’s.

The cycle course comprised five significant climbs; Hardknott from the West, Wrynose from the West and turning loop around Blea Tarn Pass, before completing Wrynose and Hardknott from the East and returning to Wasdale Head.  Following the initial leg out from Wasdale to Santon Bridge and across Eskdale Green and in to an increasing head wind I prepared and braced myself for Hardknott and on the approach worked down the gears and then crunch!  Approaching Hardknott from the West, just before the first cattlegrid at the base of the climb, my mechanic skills were laid out bare.  I had forgotten to set the stop screw on the rear mech and over zealous shifting had pushed the chain even over the 32 sprocket and alarmingly it was stuck between the spoke and sprocket.  I could move it back and forth but rivets (which hold the largest section of the block together) were preventing it being lifted out.  I pulled and tugged but it wasn’t moving, and all the time the remaining competitors were going past, albeit all genuinely asking if I needed assistance – thanks guys.  I genuinely thought this was going to be my first event DNF.  Finally, after what seemed like forever I opted to break the chain and got to use a link I had been carrying around for the last four years!  So, in my excitement and rush to get going again did I actually resolve what caused the problem? Did I heck!

I grunted upwards through the first 30%+ section of Hardknott with a ‘pinging’ sound of the chain working against the spokes…it sounded like it would fail at any moment – in an complete state of annoyance I just keep pushing and eventually stopped on the slightly lighter grade (15%) to adjust.  From this point on I entered a continual cycle of the chain jumping off the front or back and me readjusting to correct.  I had around eight incidents on the overall course and quickly learned to change early, watch the change and limit the pressure to prevent another jam.  I believe the mechanicals cost me around 40mins in total, although it felt like a lot more in the pressure of the race.

On to the second steep infamous section of Hardknott (personally renamed as Clutch Burn Hill), and with a car coming down I finally elected to push.  This extreme day was not going to be overcome by killing myself on the intense sections and in reality at 30% grade the difference in speed was marginal.  I don’t recall being passed on Hardknott but by the top checkpoint (CP) my mechanical had dropped me down to 70th position.

And so the cycle continued with grinding climbs and cautious descents – you didn’t even get opportunity to let loose.  The section between Hardknott and Wrynose was further sapping through the increasing headwind although great fun on the way back.  The loop around Blea Tarn Pass was just as challenging with a further 25% brute to overcome although you were finally able to release prior to taking it on.  My selection of SPD’s paid off on the return up Wrynose as I cunningly overtook someone who had to carry his SL pedals which had disintegrated through over walking.  Finally I peaked Hardknott again and with the wind behind for a good section some reasonable speed was achieved until Gosforth, where yet another climb kicked you before a challenging return to Wasdale Head in a headwind along the shore edge.  This was an extreme course covering 56 miles and climbing 7,217 vertical feet mixed with technical cornering throughout and virtually no flat.  The addition of circa 100 members of the ‘Vintage Motorcycle Club’ covering the same route at least gave a break to the burning clutch smell with their own brand of 2-stroke!

I entered T2 in 65th position and left with 30mins to spare before the cut-off.  Any possible time buffer had gone with the mechanical and my weaker run was down going to be fully exposed on this most demanding course.  Fortunately I had great support and encouragement in transition and at least I set off reinvigorated by blissful sunny weather.

The run course consisted of climbing Scafell Pike via the Corridor Route, descending through Mickledore before climbing Scafell via Foxes Ghyll and then returning to Wasdale head via Eel and Burnmoor Tarn’s.  My invigoration didn’t last long as the ascent to Scafell Pike commenced along the edge of Great Gable and hands on thighs begun.  I reached the first checkpoint (CP1) at Styhead still with 30mins to spare – so there was my challenge for the rest of this course – stay ahead of cut off time!  At least I had a boost in that my ascending speed wasn’t making it worse.

With some slight climbing relieve at Styhead it was on to the Corridor Route with scrambling and rope lines included.  Eventually, via CP2 at Lingmell I reached ‘bolderville’ and Scafell Pike summit and I was still holding position, a rather low position, but still holding – grab anything you can at this point!

Heading from Scafell Pike the leg torcher really began moving from bolder to bolder to scree on the decent to Mickledore before the right turn up Foxes Ghyll to ascend Scafell (yes, clearly Scafell Pike was not seen as being hard enough!).

It was at the top of Foxes Ghyll that my Guardian Angel for the day arrived. One of the amazing marshals’ congratulated me, encouraged me and asked if I was alright.  Now I generally try to be positive but I really was in a dark place and my response went along the lines of ‘feeling not so good’ (or a word beginning with ‘S’ and it wasn’t ‘super’).  At this point the marshal offered me what was clearly some of his own chocolate – what a hero and what a boost – I reached the top of Scafell (CP3) over the most difficult scree climb.

Next was what should be the faster half of the run, heading of along ‘Slight Side’ across to Eel Tarn for CP4 before the return to Wasdale Head via Burnmoor Tarn.  Alas, my unfamiliarity with fell running was now fully exposed and I was finding the decent harder than climbing.  Three runners that I had held off for some time finally went through as the ground went from boulders to bog and then suddenly it felt like I was in the middle of nowhere – I could not see anyone in any direction other than sheep…I actually only saw four other competitors on the complete run section.

By CP4 my buffer was down to 20 mins but that was the last – surely I could get back in time now – I had about 7kM to go.  Fortunately the way finding was brilliant.  The rolling bog continued to descend overall and eventually as Wasdale came in to sight my humour lifted.  My legs were still no good until finally hitting some true flat surface and the amazing feeling as you approach the finish with complete strangers and faster completed competitors giving you every encouragement.  I crossed the line having overcome the 4,583 feet of vertical climb, in overall position of 66th and was delighted to be welcomed by two of the relay team competitors, Paul and Guy who had generously waited for me putting their own dinner booking at risk – thank you guys.  I was so delighted to receive the awesome slate medal from Mark Blackburn (the event organiser) and finally my 2013 season was over.

Post completion – what an amazing event and you even get the professional photos for free – what a brilliant gesture Mark – thank you.  Yes, we were weather blessed but this is about as far away as you can get from a corporate Ironman event (which I still love) and it was very enriching for being so.  Although I consider it to be roughly the same as a standard Ironman course in terms of effort required – my time being circa two hours faster but with the intensity much greater.

Was this a bridge too far for 2013 with what had preceded?  For me no!  I finished within the allocated time and as the saying goes in endurance events ‘every finish is a win’.  The World’s Hardest Half Iron Triathlon?  I’m not arguing and I have already signed up again for next year!

Please refer to the Wasdale Triathlon website/Facebook page (http://wasdaletri.co.uk/) for full results and some great event photographs.


Name: Lee Pegram

Bib: 130

SWIM 1.2 mile: 00:42:33

T1: 00:08:29

BIKE 56 miles (7,217 feet):  05:23:53

T2: included in run time

RUN 13.1 miles (4,583 feet): 05:38:11

Total Race Time: 11:53:06

Overall Position: 66

Category Position: 57

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