Well it’s month 1 of being back in run focused training, and all the old aches n pains are still there( You’d have thought that after an 18mth sabbatical they’d have buggered off). So, the right plantar and left calf are feeling the running, meaning that track session intensity is being slightly reigned back for the next week or two.
What am I good at/less good at? I can happily deal with running repeatedly up and down the same short hill for a couple of hrs and not be bored at all. But.. going out for an ‘easy’, zone 1 run for 90mins is flippin purgatory – and it’s increasing by 10mins a week, so better get comfortable with it.
All in all I’m running for approx 7 hrs a week, and it’s good to back running. NT has got the programme nailed on to a T, there’s just the right amount of running and intensity for where I am at – very goldilocks, not too hot or too cold. Sessions are either short, hard 8/10 efforts(Track or hills), or relatively easy, talking pace longer runs.
It’s also been a period of remembering why the runs are structured the way they are. Hard hill reps are done on fresh legs, the following days long and steady at walking pace is all about running on tired legs. I had to have a word with myself on a couple of occasions during the longer runs that the pace isn’t important, and it should feel more laboured than a stand alone long run.
I also spent a weekend at Plas y Brenin for a Nav Improvers course. Takeaways being that I can navigate, I just need to pay attention to the details.. Great course, great people, highly recommended.
Costings. The Dragons Back is a bigger cost commitment than I anticipated, additional costs being mandatory kit items, recce days, and the almost unnecessary purchase of a Fenix watch.. Which joking aside, the entry fee is only the beginning, and you can do the whole journey on a relatively minimal spend, but for me it has mounted up.
I’ve also just found out that the LDWA annual 100 miler is next May. I’m already away for two whole weekends racing/recce’ing, so unfortunately I can’t do it and as it’s in Wales I am pretty disappointed. Hey ho.
Well, after much cajoling by Mrs E I finally settled on an event that ticks my essential boxes:-
Is it in an interesting location, and does it bother me(i.e strong possibility of DNF).
So with this ticked off, there ws only the small task of putting a call into a chap who knows a thing or two about endurance, Nick T, and see if he’ll help me approach this event in a sensible fashion. Call made, race discussed, and somehow he’s broken the year ahead into bite sized chunks and made it sound so simple that even I believe I can do it.. It went along the lines of ‘we need to get faster at shorter stuff, then we’ll add distance.’
GL3D May 2021
Marsden Moors marathon(LDWA)May 2021
Navigation day Plas y Brenin Oct 2020
Scrambling day with Rusty @Snowdoniawalkingclimbing Sept 2020
The formal training begins at the beginning of October, with just a 24hr mtb enduro race in Kielder to get through. I’m genuinely excited to get back into a structured programme.
I’m not one for writing race reviews, however i have been asked by a few people would I mind due to the bonkers nature of doing a double iron distance event:
Make yourself a proper big pot of tea, break open a packet of hobnobs/gingernuts, ‘cause this is quite a long un.
I don’t ever profess to being a talented athlete, in terms of athletic evolution I’m just entering the prehistoric period whilst all of my peers of the last 3 years at Moss Side swim training can now create fire. However I do have a few things in my favour, a very twisted and dark sense of humour, grim stoic determination and a passionate love of the outdoors.
So who am I? 50(nearly) years young, live in south Manchester with Lisa my incredible wife who puts up with (nearly) all of my crazy plans as long as she gets a holiday as part of the deal in return for the incessant training and kit upgrades(!)
After a few years of doing longer stuff which has included IM Wales(*3) Barcelona, Triathlon X, Celtman, Alpe d’Huez etc I felt the need for something that would properly bother me. I was possibly also a bit in awe of the achievements of one of the coaches at Man-tri who has significant success at Double and Triple(Nutters) iron distant racing, you can see where the blame is/should be heading..
Well, as I adore hills and bleakness it had to be the aptly named Double Brutal, a bit of a lumpy double iron distance race held around Snowdonia in September.
After hitting the ‘pay button’ it was time to employ the services of a man who knows a thing or two about long distance weirdy stuff – aka Nick ‘The Sage’ Thomas, and create a plan.
Thus ensued 11 months of;
Swim: A lot of ‘balls deep’ pull, band and paddles in the pool. 3-4 sessions a week.
Bike: A lot of strength endurance(Low cadence) work on the turbo in the fun environment of our cellar..
Run: No idea what we did in this bit, but it seemed to involve endless hill work around Edale on Friday afternoons and brick runs(😝).
Nick put a stack of work into periodisation of the disciplines as it is impossible to build all 3 at the same time(To the level required for ‘Double’ type distances) – educating me that muscle memory would assist in this(Turns out he knew a thing or two). Don’t get me wrong, there were times that I questioned the programme and thought he was mental, however when the person writing the programme has such experience you just have to trust that it’ll be alright on the night. Nick produced a brilliant, structured programme that kept me healthy(I have a track record of over training which results in epic colds etc), he adapted it when I got specific injuries (Couldn’t swim because of shoulder injuries), in a nutshell allowing me to get on with everyday stuff. He doesn’t deal in dramas or over complicate sh1t, and that is proper peachy for me.
The races run section would require a co-runner, and there was only one person on my list for this – Gerry D. An absolute banker, her husband would gladly drive her down from Inverness to get 16hrs of peace. She also was my co-runner at The Celtman, getting me to the coveted blue t-shirt! Gerry is a top class fell runner and experienced BG runner, Old Counties etc and I wouldn’t have anyone else as my run partner. So I messaged GD asking if she fancies it, but also offered that if it was too far that I would understand. Her response still cracks me up – “you cheeky sod, you think I can’t run 50 miles anymore!”. Ha ha, I meant the distance to travel from Inverness…. So GD was on board 😁.
According to Mrs Evans I seemed less fixated on my A race this year, quite possibly because I wanted it to be out if sight for as long as possible. And that served me well until I nearly f4cked everything up by not paying attention whilst out on a Sunday ride and took a tumble which involved using my arse cheek as a brake pad – thank you to my mate Jac, a nurse, who cleaned it,treated it and unbelievably had me back on the bike in 5 days!!
Week of the race
I had asked a group of friends(Jane, Lee, Jac, Pam & Pete) to assist Lisa in crewing for me, and the bulk of us met in The Met to thrash out duties/roles/jobs etc. A few cross purposes, but in the main all good, and with 2 medics and 3 nurses I was hopefully in safe hands.
I’d booked a house in Llanberis for people to stay in, 8 mins from transition. Once in Llanberis, Lisa and I headed over to the Brutal Expo(!) and gazed at some bike porn. As we talked to Irish Dan who was doing the Double, Lisa pointed out a familiar face, Chris Stirling. Smiles all round as Chris explained he was doing the Iron Distance race and laughed again as he wished me luck for the Double.
Shortly after this the nerves started, which as usual results in me going very introverted. At 7.45pm I legged it across to the race briefing to be met by Gerry D and her husband Derek (With the promise of an increased bribe if I ran slower therefore providing him with extended peace). Into the race briefing with 30 other Doublers to listen to a great race brief, delivered in a great manner which seemed to calm everyone down a bit – a crack team assembled by the Brutal organisers.
Off to bed, and it was the usual settled 8 hrs sleep(NOT).. I still managed to get a fair bit of sleep, but the alarm was farrrrr too early.. Up, two pots of porridge, one coffee, on with wetsuit and mooch down to the swim brief.
Consists of a 7.6km swim in Llyn Padarn, 8 loops of a .95k circuit. Exit every 2nd loop for a check over and a cup of sweet tea(Optional btw) & jaffa cakes (Don’t mind if I do.)
I don’t tend to feel the cold, and have done Iron distance races in 11 degrees fairly comfortably. However, Nick T was insistent on my wearing a neoprene vest and cap – he seems to know a thing or two it would transpire.
Those of us wearing red caps were looked at with varying glances which ranged from incredulity through to what looked like pity.. I bumped into Rob Harper, and told him he’d better get towards the front if he wanted a chance of a podium – “Not me, I’m just here for a bit of fun”, he said before rattling in the days 2nd fastest mountain section of the run going onto a stunning 7th place in the 70.3 – outstanding. The swim starts and I settle in at the back, paying heed to Nicks advice, quite enjoying watching the usual thrashfest at the front.
Lisa checked the stats later and it showed that out of the fastest 5 Double Brutal swim finishers, 4 DNF’d (1-0 to Nick)
I must have been getting the hydration right as had 1st wee on entering the water, but needed another wee during loop 2 – and for the life if me could not do that on the hoof, so took a minute whilst looking at the beautiful hills – best view I’ve ever had whilst spending a penny.
The swim was fairly straight forward, and I definitely dressed just right in the usual wetsuit along with neoprene vest, cap and boots.
As we went through the laps it got quieter in the water as 1st the 70.3ers exited, soon after followed by the 140.6ers. As much as you remind yourself that you’re in a different race, it takes a fair bit of effort not to succumb to the feeling that you’re being left behind. Although, weirdly it was highly calming being in a huge lake with only 24 other swimmers for company.
Exited the swim in approx 3.14 in 6th.
Chaotic transition 😁
The chap who appeared next to me in the transition tent(My team nicknamed him ‘Frozen Phil’) looked like he was more sensitive to the water temp and looked borderline hypothermic, poor chap.
Transition was a rather leisurely 30 minutes, food and a change into full cycling kit, managed by JC with an efficiency that the Swiss would approve of.
I decided on my road bike after much deliberation, because although I’d done all of my turbo work on my TT, all of my long rides were on the road bike.
I’d also settled on using 750ml of Tailwind per 2hr lap, topped up with clif bars in my pocket, and boiled new potatoes at each lap end. Later the team would pull their finger out and rustle up a few different dishes bara brith, soup, cake, and gallons of hot sweet tea.
The laps could easily be split up into:
Pt1: North out of Llanberis to Llanrug and take the left turn at the pub. Fairly rolling but straightforward.
Pt2: A long tough upward drag for ages towards Waunfawr with some steep sections(15-17%) just to make it awkward.
Pt3: The farside amongst the stunning hills. Long rolling roads running parallel to the Nantlle Ridge through Rhyd Ddu towards Beddgelert before the long 9-10km @6-7% climb up towards Mallorys at the top of Pen-y-Pass.
Pt4: Blistering dogs nuts descent(Don’t tell Lisa..) down towards Llanberis 😎.
The ride started in good riding weather, nothing really to report. During the night section of the bike it is mandatory to have car based support for safety reasons, my mate Lee and his wife Jac offered to do this. In the end Jac said she’d do the driving as Lee wanted to keep me company on the bike for a few laps. Lee joined me on one of the earlier laps in daylight as he didn’t want his 1st ever descent of Pen-y-Pass to be in the dark – completely fair enough.
All was fine until the back end of Lap 6 as it began to go dark and the wind properly picked up and was blowing in from all directions. We hit the Pen-y-Pass descent and dropped into it moving pretty quickly and having a lot of fun as the wind blew us around, certainly kept me awake and focused. When we reached transition the Brutal Event team took the correct decision to change the bike course so that people didn’t go back over Pen-y-Pass again as it was now viewed as not being safe to descend. At this point the weather closed in very quickly and I thought that the transition marquee was going to be blown away in the storm.. Well no-one said the race was stopping so I headed out on the new course which headed from Llanberis out to Llanrug and onto Waunfawr, before turning round and heading back (Two loops of the new course equalled one of the original loops, so as I had 2 of the original big loops outstanding it meant I needed to do 4 of the new loops..)
The weather was a full on storm with 50-60mph winds and heavy heavy rain, visibility was shocking, the air was full of leaves and branches being blown around which led to the road surface being totally blanketed in debris. At various times I went from being blown 3ft sideways one minute, through to being blown to a standstill, this meant that you couldn’t let go of the bars to eat or drink – so it wasn’t long before I was low on energy and much lower on humour and positivity. I can hold my hands up and say that on 2 separate moments in the last hour of the bike that my head completely went and I just wanted to pull over, get off the bike and curl up for a cry. My mate Lee had kept me company on the two penultimate laps before his light batteries ran out, thank God his batteries ran out as it turned out he was in a poor way due to being cold and sodden and hadn’t been able to get enough/any food down – a tough chap, too determined for his own good. I left him at transition and headed out on my last lap, and to be honest my mood was pretty low. Jac had been driving the support car in the dark though the storm and was also by now exhausted, she offered me some of her coffee and liquorice allsorts(Sounded grim, but at that moment it was Michelin standard dining😍). It hit the spot, perked me right up and got me through the last lap. When I got back to transition the team peeled off the cycling gear and proceeded to dress me ready for a double mara… Right about now I knew how my body was feeling and had big doubts about getting through the next 50 odd foot miles, flippin eck I hope Nick T knows what he’s been talking about for the last 10 months.
Starving, I asked for rice pudding and as if by magic a warm bowl of rice pud appeared – that was demolished without a pause for breath.. Biiigg mistake…
Big thanks to Chris S and Rob H for appearing during the bike and offering their support – especially after doing so well in their own races, it meant a lot. Chris smashed the iron course record time by over an hour – legend of a man. Rob took a fantastic 6th, no pressure on me then – cheers lads 😉.
The original run route was head up Snowdon, followed by 8 laps of the lake. Due the storm, the mountain was closed.
I decided on wearing my Rab mountain coat as the weather was beyond a running jacket, and set off on the run with a highly excited co-runner Gerry who couldn’t wait to get going. It soon became apparent that the rice pudding was a mistake, my stomach had closed down and just couldn’t process the rice. Unfortunately it then took nearly two laps for it to settle down(With hindsight I should have found a wall and left a bit of pavement pizza).
Neither Gerry or myself have any love of running on tarmac – at all.. So it was a trudge each lap, moaning like a pair of Daily Mail subscribers until we got into the hilly woods section, then it was like a pair of kids – great fun.
Slowly but surely we were ticking the laps off, and each lap my Scott Jurek — ‘Nature’s arena has a way of humbling and energizing us.’support crew seemed to have a new fancy dress – we had Manchester Bees(Inc. deely boppers and wings), eighties dayglo sunglasses, grass skirts, team t-shirts, Iron Maiden flag – complete madness I tell ya.
On one lap we took Gerry’s two Staffies round with us, before dropping them off as we completed the lap. Halfway round the next lap it became apparent how goosed i was when Gerry asked what I was looking for? “The dogs” I replied. “Hmm” said Gerry, “They didn’t come out on this lap Steve…”
I told you there were dogs🤔
Halfway round the lake lap there is a feed station, which we took the chance to take on sweet tea. I felt that I was on track, we were on lap 7 and had 2 further laps left to do(So I had thought and had been preparing myself for). During a brief chat with the marshall we mentioned that we were on lap 7, to which he replied with positivity “that’s great, just 3 left to do!”, deep joy.. One extra lap may not seem much, but it properly hit me in the nuts for 10 minutes until I think Gerry got bored of my moaning and she stopped to talk to a pretty rough looking mountain goat that was eyeing us slither past. I hit lap 8 as hard as possible(I may have actually got both feet off the ground once), lap 9 slightly less so but still solid. Lap 10 I have to be truthful and acknowledge that I found it hard to even maintain a fast shuffle – poor Gerry was keeping me moving but it was so slow that her core temperature was dropping(Thank you and sorry G.). There were definitely points in the last 2-3km that the mossy banks looked like big comfy inviting beds..
During the 2nd half of the run I contemplated what my thoughts might be upon completion. Eventually I concluded simply that I was looking forward to just not having to move forward anymore!!
We dropped off the hillside and Gerry demanded that we put on a good show and run to the finish line to the cheers of the best support crew anyone could hope for.
16 odd hours of barking mad conversations and topics completed. My favourite topic from Gerry being – “why isn’t a hotdog a sandwich!”
I would describe the run as being borderline zen like, one step in front of the other, nothing more nothing less.
Thanks again to Chris Stirling and Rob Harper for appearing during the run to support, lads it was much needed – sorry I didn’t give much in return..
38hrs 55mins and 48 whole secs…
Got me 9th place, so for once in my life i’m pretty chuffed with that.
Post finish line
There wasn’t much euphoria at the end, we headed back to the house where I sat on the settee. I was properly worried as I felt my body shutting down, and having never felt this way before I didn’t know what the hell to do. The team put me to bed, but shortly after that I was up praying to the porcelain god – not nice. I then spent two days sweating, being sick and just generally thinking WTF!
Lisa and Jane caught me in a moment of weakness, and being quite a nasty duo they recorded me saying that I wouldn’t ever do this again…
Coping strategies: I had been told by a couple of experienced people that there would be darkness, regular doubts and some tears so I made sure that I had 2-3 coping strategies.
Hot sweet tea is a magical cure all ills potion, up there with anything that Marie Curie mixed up. Do not underestimate its recuperative and regenerative powers.
Support crew – do not underestimate the critical bearing that an experienced support crew will have on your race.
Apart from the usual stuff, I’ll just highlight some items that I felt warrant a special mention.
Blueseventy neoprene vest and cap
Sportful string vest. This I wore through both the bike and run, an incredible item for helping regulate body temperature. It looks a highly suspect fashion choice, but there’s a reason pro riders wear them.
Diamond running poles.
Vaseline – industrial sized pot
Pretzl Nao headtorch: great piece of kit.
Two sets of bike mounted lights: 6-800 lumens apiece. Light the night up and it’s less tiring trying to see where you’re going.
Tailwind: quite fantastic stuff. Non sticky, doesn’t have a strong taste, just a very subtle source. Felt consistently strong throughout the bike without any minging sugary spikes
Jaffa cakes: Allegedly I ate a couple of packs of these(And that was just the swim!)
Nuts: salted peanuts
New potatoes 😍
Mrs Evans; my god you put up with a lot x
Nick Thomas: my god I put up with a lot 😉
Crew: Lisa, Jane, Gerry D, Jac, Lee, Pam and Pete – legends each of them
Brutal Events: what a great crew they were. Very capably lead by Clare, especially in such tough weather conditions she made great decisions in altering the course to ensure everyone’s safety.