Ben Nevis Tri training weekend

It was with quite a lot of fear and uncertainty that I arrived at the Snowgoose Mountain centre on Friday night. I was there for a training weekend for the 'Big Tri', organised by No Fuss (the event organisers), with some help from Dirt School and also some past winners of the event. I was expecting the room to be full of tough, determined triathletes who can run forever and eat mountains for breakfast. I was right about the mountains of muesli but apart from that everyone seemed to be relatively 'normal' (for a triathlete), though I suspect a few of them were hiding their super powers deliberately. As we clutched our cups of tea and watched a video about just how tough the triathlon really is, I realised that most of the other people in the room were less experienced in long distance racing than I am (albeit probably much faster at the shorter distances - I believe some of them can even swim properly). So gradually, I began to feel less daunted.

We did a lap of the bike course first thing Saturday morning. It has the most brutal start imaginable (steep STEEP climb, with some steps for added enjoyment, then an extra 30min of more climbing... 4 laps of this???) By the top of the hill I was starting to seriously consider demoting myself to the half tri but I reckon the descent was worth the pain. I suspect that sentiment wasn't shared by the guy who fell off in front of me and dislocated his shoulder. I think he's a keen triathlete / road biker but wasn't so used to off-road riding and I'm not sure whether he felt under a bit of peer pressure to keep up with the people blasting down the hill. The path wasn't built for mountain biking and some of the corners are a bit funny - you probably wouldn't get them like that at a trail centre so it will pay to be careful in the race, particularly when it's the third lap and I'm getting tired.

So next we went for a short (tide-assissted) swim in Loch Linnhe - tourists actually stopping to watch us as we tried to pretend we were tough (amid the ice-cream headaches and hyperventilating that is normal for people getting into Scottish waters). I think I'm quite lucky that I can handle the cold ok when I'm in the water and it doesn't affect my breathing too much but I really struggled getting out the water - I was too dizzy to walk for ages, especially over the sharp stones. Not sure what I'm going to do to fix that, I might just have to accept that I need a minute to breathe deeply on getting out rather than trying to rush through the transition. And I'll put baby oil on my legs to help me get out the wetsuit since it felt like that took about 10min!!!

Saturday afternoon (yes, still the same day), we ran up Ben Nevis. Some local runners came along to show us some of the shortcuts and also give us some advice on pacing. That's all going to come in really useful at the race so I'm really grateful they took the time to do that. It was really busy the whole way up. I don't think I've ever seen so many people on a hill at once - not even at hill races. The shortcuts were pretty welcome!! At the bottom, everyone in the group was keen to go all the way to the top but I didn't want to commit as I was worried I'd hold people back and they'd get cold waiting. By the time we were 2/3rds of the way up, things had changed and I was the only one keen to go on. Not sure whether I'm just more stubborn or more stupid than the rest of them but we decided to go back down anyway. That's three times I've been on the Ben and not made the summit. Next time will be the race and I'll get there.

The thing that really surprised me was that I actually ran up some of the path. It felt like I was going to explode and I think in a race scenario I'd probably back off and think I couldn't sustain a pace like that. But by the time we were at the walking stage I felt like I'd had a bit of a recovery - maybe I can sustain going a bit harder, even on the longer races. (Stayed tuned to find out as I'm planning imminent experimentation!)

All the people involved in organising and running the weekend each had something really useful to offer, whether it's practical advice, encouragement or personal experience and stories. The weekend as a whole was a very positive experience for me and I feel like I've come out the other end more confident about making a go of the Ben Nevis tri.
13 weeks and counting...


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