The Slateman Savage was one of my favourite races last year – with epic scenery, great organisation and a whole weekend of racing. Despite not being able to persuade Barney to join me (the small matter of a CFA mock got in the way. . . ) I was keen to make the long journey to North Wales to defend my Slateman Savage title, and see if I could get any closer to the amazing Suzie Richards.
Driving up post work on a Friday evening was never going to be smooth, but it ended up taking me 6.5 hours and I was immensely grateful to be staying at an awesome AirBnB where I was welcomed with a roaring log fire and a cup of tea! One of the nice things about Slateman is the relatively relaxed start time, so the alarm only had to be set for 7am.
Saturday 21st May: The Sprint
Having registered and sorted all my kit out I went to set everything up in transition. Having expected Saturday to be full on thunderstorms I thought we might get lucky, with the sun almost being out as I was racking my bike. Well that was a false sense of security – just as I had put my wetsuit on the heavens opened! Fortunately by this time the briefing was over and we were heading down to the water, so my mind was more on how cold the lake would be!
This year all the women were starting together, so I knew at least I would know where I was in comparison to the other competitors, unlike last year! Getting into the lake a few minutes before the fun went off, it was fairly cold but nowhere near as bad as last year – although not sure it was the 13.9 degrees that was mentioned at the briefing! Having splashed my face a bit I was ready when the countdown began, and set off at full speed. The crowd thinned out quickly and I could see a few girls ahead of me, but not many. As I came out the lake, whilst fiddling with my wetsuit I heard Lou telling me I was 4th girl out – result! I had a relatively quick transition, fortunately not being as light headed as last year, and was soon out on the bike.
The roads were so wet! Fortunately the first section was just climbing up the pass, which I took fairly steadily (bearing in mind I had to do it again tomorrow!), but also trying to keep count of how many girls I was passing. Coming over the top and I was cautious on the first descent down (maybe too cautious – definitely something I need to work on!), and despite getting pretty chilly the bike was soon over and I was relieved to have made it back to T2 in one piece.
Onto the run – the sprint run takes you almost immediately up a steep hill through the forest – a real leg burner! I could feel the 2 70.3 races and a week of not being 100% as I was trying to push up the hill. By this point a couple of the marshalls told me I was 2nd lady, and as I couldn’t see 1st lady anywhere I knew she would be a fair way ahead. With the forest tracks being lethally slippy I was trying to be relatively sensible and not end my race prematurely. Finally, as the sun started to emerge I hit the nice downhill back to the finish, and was relieved to be crossing the line. I wasn’t hugely surprised to be a bit slower than last year, given the bike conditions, but it is slightly frustrating to not be able to see improvements.
I had a nice chilled afternoon back at the AirBnB, followed by early dinner with some friends I had met at other races, before having a super early night.
Sunday 22nd May: Slateman Full
Waking up, my legs definitely felt better than last year, but obviously not super fresh. I had a good breakfast and got myself back down to transition to set up in good time. Today was originally meant to be nice weather, and I was looking forward to enjoying the bike leg without being as cautious. However, it soon became apparent that the weather was going to be similar to yesterday! Thankfully I was able to make use of my DryRobe, which was an absolute godsend!
I had a great chat with Suzie whilst we were waiting for the start – it really is one of the great things about the sport – the amount of truly humble, inspiring people you meet, full of energy and enthusiasm and so willing to share tips and encouragement. My plan was to try and stick near her in the swim and see what happened for the rest of the race. The start of the full was a bit more hectic than yesterday, with more competitors, and I knew the cold would hit a bit more with the full 1k swim. I got into a good rhythm, not quite managing to get onto speedy feet but feeling good nevertheless. As I emerged from the lake I saw Suzie getting out alongside me – result! Part 1 of race strategy had gone to plan.
Transition was relatively smooth and soon I was heading back out to the familiar climb in the rain. Suzie was just ahead of me and a few metres in she was having to stop to sort out her shoes – I was hoping this would give me a tiny gap I could take advantage of! Going up the hill I could definitely feel yesterdays efforts in the legs, however I was just trying to stick to good power, and then try and man up a bit on the descents. As we approached the top of the pass Suzie came powering past – I stuck with her to the top but then chickened out when I saw her get onto her aerobars for the descent!
The rest of the bike course is truly glorious – long sweeping roads you can get some serious speed up, a few tight turns but generally not too technical. I lost sight of Suzie quickly and then just focused on keeping to my power. About 25k in I started getting quite cold, and was trying to think of anything warm to take my mind off it! Finally we were coming into T2.
T2 was a slight disaster – my hands were too cold to get my helmet off and I had to get help from a marshall. I couldn’t feel my feet so putting my trainers on was also interesting! Got off onto the run after what seemed like an age, and was very glad of the nice flat bit (post the initial hill!) to get a bit of speed an rhythm and warm up! Before I knew it I had hit the slate zig zags, and I knew it was a pretty long drag up – however the scenery is awesome, and there was some great support up the hill as well. Coming down through the forest I wasn’t feeling very nimble – fell style running is definitely not my forte!
Just over 1k out I could hear the commentator announcing Suzie coming over the line – utterly amazing performance from her, especially considering how recently she has been able to run pain free again. One day hopefully I will be more mountain goat like. . .
I thoroughly enjoyed the weekend as always – the Always Aim High guys put on a great event, the crowds were brilliant especially given the weather, and the course is one of a kind. Lots to build on in the run up to Exmoor 70.3.