TRIATHLON X.

GB says: Ironman? Nah….. You need Triathlon X. Race report by Elswick’s Mark Turnbull. This was my 3rd go at Tri X: -2017 blazing hot day 16 hrs 46, 20th -was a “is this even possible” event.

-2018 wet/windy/cold 15 hrs 24 (shortened course) 24th after an hour’s bath in T2 to defrost J – was a miserable event but felt like unfinished business as I was really hampered by the weather.

-2019 blazing hot again 15 hrs 12 (lengthened course) 7th – gave it a proper go. I entered TriX 2019 off the back of a decent result at Ironman Barcelona in October with the aim of building on that fitness following the same season plan as per the last couple of years – get running fit for VLM April then move onto the bike for a couple of months of long hilly rides. All went well and I arrived at the start line feeling confident of a good result, target being top 10 and 1st V50.

TriX is an extreme iron distance event with numbers limited where you get to see the whole Lake District in a day – it’s a proper adventure! 2.4 mile swim in Windermere, 112 mile cycle following the infamous Fred Whitton route with a couple of even harder bits and then a 27 mile ‘run’ to the top of Scafell Pike and back, easy. Part of the challenge is to actually finish within the 20 hour cut off and many don’t – out of 150 entrants, 80 started and only 50 finished. The event starts at 4:30 am to give everyone the best chance of finishing in daylight so the alarm was set for 3am for porridge, racking the bike and last minute preparations.

The swim was calm and warm for Windermere, 19.9 degrees after a week or two of sunshine, so I had the best iron distance swim I’ve had at 1:12, solid midfield and I got out feeling good thinking right let’s nail the rest, pick off as many in front as possible.

Onto the bike and no warm up, the route goes through Ambleside and straight up the Struggle, the 1st of 6 passes and countless other big climbs, 2 miles of up to 25% climbing to warm up on. The trick to coping with the really steep bits is having the gears so you don’t need to redline too much, I was using a 34/36 combo, a few teeth extra over last time but it definitely helps.

The miles and the hills ticked by, passing better swimmers all day without any major dramas and without any lengthy stops. Part of the strategy learnt from experience was to really maximise the free time gains by nailing transitions and minimising feed stops.

I got to Hardknott (33% at the steepest!) where most people get off and walk and got up in a fairly decent time passing a few pushing their bikes up. Walking up any of the steep bits can cost you up to 20 minutes, much better to take a man up pill and push some watts up to the top, rest on the way down.

So over the big climbs: the Struggle, Dockray, Honister, Newlands, Whinlatter, Fangs Brow, Cold Fell, Hardknott and then should have been Wrynose and Hawkshead then back to base. However Just before the last really steep climb of Wrynose we were re-routed following a diversion on a back way to Coniston adding about 5 miles and an extra couple of thousand feet of climbing. Amongst myself and the riders around me there was plenty of huffing, complaining and heads falling at this stage until we learnt the reason was that a poor lady had lost her life on Wrynose pass during another event on that day – a coast to coast sportif – puts things in perspective, maybe not such a bad route.

I’ve no idea what happened to her except that she had a crash, but some of these descents can be really dangerous, especially if something goes wrong or breaks. On the steep ones my arms were aching from braking so much. This was the low point of the race though for me and probably everyone else – pretty tired of cycling and a few extra unplanned miles and hills.

Still arriving in T2 was a relief and no bath required this year, bonus! Quick shoe change, gulp down a recovery shake, pick up my backpack (essential fell running gear required for this run) and get running. I was still feeling good, asking what position I was in, about 20th I think and started strong, 1st mile 7:45, great, still passing people now and then. 

The marathon to Scafell Pike summit and back is not like a normal marathon. You’re already tired at the start and it gets hillier and harder and the forced slow down begins early on. The first 6 miles to the Dungeon Ghyl aren’t too bad, a few hills on the way, but from then on it’s rough steep and rocky, plenty of walking and hopping over rock fields. Scafell is pretty cruel with a few false summits but the view from the top is incredible – you can virtually see coast to coast. No time for sightseeing though I got to the top, touched the cairn and headed straight off down again.

I had a good idea of where I was and who I was racing at that stage, I was in 7th at the top having passed a few guys on the way up including a couple I recognised as in the same age group. The plan was get to the top as fast as possible and the descent should be slightly easier. Because it’s an out and back route I knew who I’d passed and I’d seen who was ahead who all looked pretty strong, so hold on for 7th was the plan. Halfway back down however I got passed by a guy I’d passed on the way up – he was a lot better going downhill, my legs just wouldn’t go any faster. Once off the mountain the run back to the finish went by pretty well, I picked up the litre of coke I’d left in my bag at the Dungeon Ghyl feed station and got through it in the last 6 miles (just like Ironman!) passing another guy who was walking near the end.

The relief of getting over the finish line at long tough events like this is immense and arriving back at the stadium finish to grandstands of applause (about 20 people in a car park) to get my medal with a few mumbles of “well done lad” was the icing on the cake. It’s not quite Ironman but the experience and sense of achievement is just as amazing. So 2.4 mile swim, 116 mile bike with 13000 feet of climbing and 27 mile run with 5000 feet of climbing, 7th overall and 2nd V50 in 15 hours 12 minutes. Turned out the guy that passed me was a V50, had a 54 minute swim and finished 6 minutes ahead, so I made up 14 minutes but it wasn’t enough. Official times:

1:14 swim (don’t know where they got the extra 2 minutes from)

7:46 bike

6:05 run

Plus 3 minutes each for T1 and T2.

Job done, happy with that, I couldn’t have done any more (just need to swim faster). What next – well they also ran a TriX Extreme this year (more hills, in fact just hills the whole way) with 20 entrants and only one finisher (mainly due to the weather) – maybe next year.

Iain Hardy

Triathlon X is exactly what it says on the tin,,..
The toughest full distance triathlon in the world !!
Well done mate n hats off to you in going back for unfinished business
Well done Mark

Fancy joining Graham n I for alpe duez tri nxt year
‍♂️⛰‍♂️⛰‍♂️⛰

graham bell

Hercules shall be your new Tri Name 🙂
Well done Mark, cracking race & a podium spot too, superb Mark, well done indeed.

Rob Emson

When you start at 4 30am, there’s something ominous in that! Not sure if we’ll done is enough to say Mark – incredible!

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