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Photo credit: James Page.

Triple Brutal - not for wimps! Part two – the Bike

30-Nov-15

Last updated: 20-Aug-18

By James Page

The Brutal Events Triple Iron Distance Triathlon consists of the three Triathlon disciplines x three in the heart of the Snowdonia National Park. James Page took it on and this is part two of his story: the Bike at 348 miles. If you missed part one – it’s here.

The Bike - 348 Miles

The bike course is 348 miles, which breaks down into 12 x 29 mile loops around the foothills of Snowdon. The course goes out of Llanberis anticlockwise and then turns left up and over to Waunfawr. This is by far the steepest section of the course. A massive amount of height gain in a very short distance which then leads you left towards Beddgelert on an undulating road past the aid station at Beddgelert woods and a fast descent through the village. You then head left again towards Capel Curig on another undulating road and into the climb of Pen-Y-Pass, a 4.5 mile climb all the way to the youth hostel at the top. This is followed by a very quick descent down the Llanberis Pass, which is cold, fast and dangerous. The entire course climbs just over 32,000 feet. 

The bike began in the beautiful sunshine and that glorious weather would stay with me until nightfall. As soon as I got on the bike I started to warm up and stopped shaking. I blasted round the first lap in around 1 hour 40 minutes and I felt great. After the first lap I dumped some clothing and carried on eating little and often which consisted of yoghurt raisins, ham bagels, Jackoatbars and Pringles. I had chosen to ride my triathlon bike until it got dark - laps 2 and 3 were quickly knocked off.

On lap 3 I met up with Willie Wilson (double) and we rode a little together. His friend was making a film about the race and at one point he sat in the middle of the road as we rode either side of him. A great couple of guys. The tri bike was running smoothly and was an absolute joy to ride, so light and very quick even though it had quite a high gear ratio. (Quintana Roo Calante). At the start of lap 4 I decided to change to my aluminium road bike, a Kona King, only because my lights would not fit on the triathlon bike. 

Lap 4 was interesting lap. I felt like I was riding through treacle. I kept looking down thinking I had a flat tyre. Just as I finished the lap, the sun set and I was now into the dark night laps. I asked someone to check the bike for me as I was sure that something was wrong with the tyres. As I ate, someone checked the pressures. The front was 20PSI and the rear 60PSI. No wonder it was a hard lap and had really sapped my legs. I had asked one of the team to check them in the morning before I got on it later. Seems like they forgot! 

With an Ironman Bike (116 miles on this course) complete, I only had another two ironman rides to go. At the start of lap 5 my legs were tired, the last lap on flat tyres had clearly taken its toll. A friend in my support crew, Jamie, joined me for a couple of laps. He is an experienced ironman racer and is looking to take on the Double Brutal in the next couple of years so he was keen to see what it was all about. It was great having Jamie riding with me, it helped to pass the time. We churned out the miles, shadowed by our support vehicle which was being driven by Matt the spanner monkey. He did an amazing job keeping us safe and supplying us with bits of food along the way. He would leap frog us, pull over and wait for us to come by. By now I was starting to reject food and didn't fancy eating anything at all. I was conscious that I had to keep eating around 350 cals an hour just to keep myself going. This had become a struggle. At the end of the lap I was beat. I rolled into the house a grey man, every one was fussing around me trying to get food into me. In the space of around 15 minutes I was stuffed forcibly like a goose with about 900 cals - protein shakes, peanut butter toast, porridge, soup, tea, blueberries. One blueberry too many and I jumped up from my chair, ran to the toilet and prayed to the porcelain god!

Once everything was out of my system, I washed my face, brushed my teeth and felt massively better. I think my body just needed to be reset. I rested for a little while longer, ate some soup and then set out for lap 6, again with Jamie to keep me company.

Lap 6 was very hard, I had an empty tank and needed to build up some reserves again. The problem was it was now the middle of the night and my body was willing me to go to sleep. The temperature had dropped and it was cold. On the descents I found myself shivering, cold to the bone. I kept dropping off to sleep and would open my eyes as I headed towards a wall or fence. This happened a few times as there was nothing to look at apart from the darkness ahead. Jamie was also a little quiet on this lap and was clearly tired too. My plan had been not to stop and rest until after Snowdon. I planned to go straight through with no sleep however I was quickly learning that this plan was flawed. As we passed through Beddgelert I announced to Matt that I would get this lap finished, bridge the half way mark on the bike and then sleep for 20 minutes. As I hit the climb of Pen-Y-Pass my legs fell asleep and then half way up so did I. Enough was enough, I had to shut my eyes.

I caught up with the support vehicle and got in it. I told Matt to just give me five minutes sleep now and then I would take another 20 at the house. I was worried about sleeping for any longer than that as always in the back of my mind were the cut off times for the bike. The moment I shut my eyes, everything went dark and then, what felt like immediately, Matt shook me and told me it was time to get up. He had let me sleep for 30 minutes. At first I was cross in my head, thinking that I had just lost time. As I got back on my bike that 30 minutes sleep, added to having been sick earlier, changed me. I felt like I had a new lease of life. 

The lap was completed and I was half way through, the bike was all down hill from here. Justin rode lap 7 with me, although some miscommunication on everyone's behalf meant that most of the lap with him was actually on my own. I was beginning to take on soup and was looking forward to the morning. I kept telling myself "when the sun comes up...it will all get better" I knew this was a load of rubbish but it was a running joke amongst us, back from The Oner Ultra in April.

Lap 8 I rode on my own. It was quite nice to be out in the dead of the night with just my own thoughts. However the course is Brutal. You hardly see anyone on the bike. When I did, I always rode alongside whoever it was and had a chat. I really appreciated talking to the other competitors and I think they appreciated it too. As the sun started to come up the weather remained cold, the sun hidden by a grey haze. Near Beddgelert I came across Adam who was also racing the triple. It was great to see him and we agreed to ride together for a while. Side by side we rolled along chatting about all sorts. Ending this lap would be a milestone, the double distance bike would be done and we would only have four more laps to go. I was willing us on. We rode up Pen-Y-Pass together through the fog and as we reached the top of the climb my left crank flew off the bike. I was clearly putting too much power through it but fortunately I didn't fall off. I said farewell to Adam hoping to see him again on the course and he rode ahead to let Justin who was in the support vehicle know what had happened. I had fixed it on but as I had no real strength left it was just not tight enough. I sat in the van at the top of Pen-Y-Pass whist Justin tightened it all up, got some food and drink on board.

As I got in on this lap it was the first time I had seen my brother Darren. He had completed the full Brutal, was wearing his medal and had waited to see me before he went to bed. It was a real mental boost to know he had finished safely and I could now stop worrying about him. I was so proud of him and had a tear in my eye as we had a proper good hug. Grant had also finished the half, having pulled from the full due to a niggling injury he had started with.  Well done to them both. Couch to Ironman in nine months #Boom.

It was now daylight and I was feeling much better and was about to ride two laps with my stepsons. Zac, 14, rode lap 9 with me, he was so encouraging and really helped me through the lap. I think he had to work hard to keep up with me at times but he was a great support and couldn't believe I was moving so well. Lap 10 was with Jake, 16, who again was encouraging and supportive. It was great to ride with the boys. Both are great boys and very strong cyclists. 

Lap 11 and Jamie rode another lap with me. Nice steady lap. The wind had really picked up on laps 10, 11 and 12 and the descents were even colder than before. By the time I reached the bottom of Llanberis my legs would be uncontrollably shaking with coldness.

Lap 12, the last lap - one of my best buds, Grant, said he would ride a lap with me. He had completed the half the previous day and it was a great opportunity to have some time with him. We seemed to whizz round. As I went up each hill I announced, "I won’t be going up that hill again. I finished the last climb of Pen-Y-Pass and headed down to Llanberis feeling on top of the world. I was going to get my arse off the bike and I couldn't wait.

Just outside Llanberis I stopped the support vehicle and gave Matt an almighty man hug, he had kept me safe throughout the bike and I was very grateful. I rolled into and over the timing mat to be met by people clapping. It was such a lovely feeling. 

I lifted my bike up, tried to get it over my head but my arms were too tired so I just lifted it up to my waist. Time to get some food down my neck. Throughout the bike I regularly changed out of the cold wet clothes and sprayed my legs with BetterYou Magnesium Oil to keep muscles and body fresh. What a difference a change of clothes makes to your mental strength. I often had the phrase running around my head #sufferbutNEVERsurrender.

Finished in 30 hours 17 minutes.

Read on for part three: The Run
If you missed part one, the swim, it’s here.

Review Triple Brutal - not for wimps! Part two – the Bike

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