Last summer, accountant Ian Shutt, 37, took on the Lakesman triathlon around Keswick. He expected it to be tough going… but was still caught out by the reality of the task
The day started earlier than planned. The people in the room next to mine at the bed and breakfast were up and about well before my alarm was due to go off. A steady stream of passing cars suggested that something a little unusual was happening in Keswick that day and I should probably get myself down to the lake side sooner rather than later.
On Derwentwater, an armada of bright orange buoys stretched out as far as the eye could see. This made for an impressive sight – one that I thought would make even Sir Walter Raleigh pause his game of (crazy) golf next to transition to go and have a look! This was the first running of The Lakesman, the UK’s newest ironman distance triathlon, and was the culmination of my journey, which had started in secret with me failing to let my wife know I was competing! The buzz of a drone overhead greeted us as we entered the surprisingly tepid water for the swim, and suddenly we were off. Taking my rightful place at the back, I looked around and noted that every single person had gone with front crawl.
Despite my best efforts, breast stroke remains my strongest so I was relieved to see a dozen or so of my fellow competitors soon switch and we settled into our positions and splashed on. I love outdoor swimming. I enjoy being able to see things from a perspective not many others get a chance to. As I swum I realised that I was literally one of a few not just in a million but in a billion who had the opportunity and ability to do this, and despite a worrying red tinge to the water (which I subsequently realised was due to my goggles), all was good with the world.
This is an event which has been designed with the competitor at the centre of everything. The 2:20hr cut-off for the swim is generous and having made it comfortably inside that I had time for a nice transition and the feeling amongst my fellow athletes was good.
Anyone who knows Keswick will know it’s surrounded by some impressive hills. The Himalayas it is not, but stand at the edge of Derwentwater and look toward the west coast and it’s a pretty menacing sight. Again though, the organisers had done me a favour. At just over 6ft tall and 14 stones I’m probably at the higher end of the scale for an ironman, certainly when other athletes greet me on the course it’s not uncommon to be called “big lad”, but over the 112 miles the total elevation was just over 4,000ft, avoiding any of the Lake District’s famous climbs.
A fast start on good roads meant I could get above my target average speed, although when the hills came I did slow significantly. I was also hampered by a painful knee (probably caused by my poor swimming technique) so everything suddenly felt a bit like hard work. Again though, things turned my way and the middle section of the route was flat and fast, hugging the coast and with a little wind assistance a cruising speed of 18mph could be achieved with relatively little effort. Passing through towns and villages made famous to me in the tales of my old business studies teacher Mr Dacre, it was a chance to see a part of the UK I didn’t know well, and with food stops every 17 miles or so I was well fed and hydrated without having to carry the huge amount of energy gels I’d bought.
Turning back inland and making an enemy of the wind was always going to come eventually. I looked into the distance and the hills disappeared from view beneath a blanket of cloud, suggesting that the ride back to Keswick wasn’t going to be as pleasant as the ride away from it had been.
On reflection, I think there are a number of factors behind what happened next, some I could have influenced and others I couldn’t, but the rain was definitely one of them.
After clearing the remaining hills I began the relatively flat last few miles back to transition… they began to feel like hard work. The knee pain I’d forgotten all about was back, and coming into town the roads got busier and I began to question myself.
I got to transition and pulled on my vest, made a quick call to Mrs Shutt to check she hadn’t gone into labour yet (yes, she was expecting too), then ventured back out into the rain. The run course is five laps of a little over 5 miles so easily broken down. Within each of those laps there’s a number of out and backs, with one road in particular which is divided into four lanes of runners going either one way or the other. I’ve never seen so many feed stations on one course before – there were three per lap, each manned by enthusiastic volunteers.
At the end of my first lap I made the decision to head back into transition. I think, in reality, I’d made my mind up some time before that that I’d give it a lap and then stop. I had a long chat with the race referee and a cup of tea before officially handing over my timing chip. The officials couldn’t have been nicer and even offered to walk a lap with me, but I’d decided my race was run.
I felt slightly embarrassed walking back to the car after a bowl of complementary stew in the athletes’ marquee and getting congratulated by people who must have thought I was one of the few who beat the 10-hour barrier.
Now that a couple of weeks have passed I think I’ve got a bit of perspective. Certainly I felt physically I could have completed the distance, even after my tea-break at the end of the first lap I’d got enough time to briskly walk the course. Mentally I was gone though. It’s something I completely underestimated in my training and something that I’ll focus on much more next time.
I also would book to stay over after the event so the thought of driving home afterwards doesn’t come into it. Quite frankly I missed my family and wanted to get home. It did feel good when I was home that evening to be relaxing in the bath rather than still out on the course though!
It’ll be another year before I can get that medal, but with my entry logged for next year and a better understanding of what the event entails and what I need to work on, I’m more determined than ever to get back out there and finally get to say that I am a Lakesman.