The Brutal Extreme Tri
The Brutal had been on my radar for a few years ever since stumbling across a TV programme late one night about an ex Welsh rugby player who was doing it but I had been putting it off as too hard or too far away or too something. Recent years has seen it gather some media attention, particularly in 220 Magazine and so earlier this year I decided that the time for procrastinating was over and took the plunge one evening and pressed “Enter”.
My wife agreed to come along as support crew and so in our hired campervan, we set off on Friday morning down to Llanberis. Registration was straightforward and the race briefing was held in a cramped hall on Friday evening after which we headed back to the van for a restless night before a 5:00am alarm.
The Brutal likes to brand itself as a tough event and is held over a “full iron” distance course comprising 4 laps of a 950m swim in Lake Padaarn, 4 laps of a 29 mile bike loop taking in a little over 8,000 feet of climb, 3 laps of the lake (5.5 miles each) and then an ascent and descent of Snowdon. I had entered the “full” event but there were 20 mad folk who had chosen to do “The Double” and around 10 who had opted for “The Treble” – I kid you not – 3 times the “full distance!
Race morning was cool but dry and not a breath of wind and after a slight delay to reset the marker buoys, the swim got under way with around 300 of us in a mass start. I had been worried that the swim was going to be really cold but was pleasantly surprised once I got in and really enjoyed the first two laps, after which we had to get out, run over a timing mat and then head back in for another two laps. My plan for the day was to take it nice and steady right from the start and not worry about my time or place and so was quite happy to come out of the water after about 1hr 18mins which proved good enough for 16th on the day.
A long run/walk through a field to transition before a full change of kit to get ready for the bike. I had decided before hand that I was going to treat the race like my ultrarunning days and take may time at checkpoints and transitions, get changed, eat and if need be, rest to make sure I finished but more importantly to try and enjoy the day. A complete change of clothes then and a slice of flapjack and I headed off on the first of four bike loops.
The bike route consists of some beautiful scenic country roads with two significant climbs. The first one after about 5 miles was relatively short but very steep but it was the second one which concerned me more. The climb up to Pen Y Pas is about 7 miles long and although not steep is a 1st / 2nd gear grind the whole way up. The upside of that though was the 4 mile descent coming back down to transition to start the next loop. Long story short, I had two punctures on the first lap and fought with my tyre each time so lost a good 20 mins giving my wife some concerns as she was waiting for me to come through the lap in about 2 hours but I arrived some 20 mins late!
Sticking to my plan, I stopped briefly at each of the two aid stations and got some food down and topped up my bottles. My overall time for the bike route reflects my rather laid back approach and whilst my garmin said 7hrs 50mins moving time (right on my estimate) my actual chip time including my puncture repairs and food stops was 1 hour slower! Still, good enough for 45th overall and now it was onto the run.
Another full change and I headed off not knowing how my legs would feel after the tough bike route but I was just glad to be off that bloody saddle at last! My last two iron distance events have not happy experiences on the run as I was injured before the race at Bolton and suffered dreadfully with cramp at Lakesman so it was with some trepidation that I set off and to my surprise, my legs felt great and I was running really well!
I really enjoyed the three lake laps and ran consistently even splits for each one despite the 3rd one needing a head torch. The route was about 50/50 road and trail and included a significant amount of climbing but following the “walk the ups and run the flats and downs” approach, I got back to transition feeling good and recording the 25th fastest run split. It was now about 9:00pm at night and it was time to pick up my compulsory kit in my mountain bag, get checked and approved by the medical team before heading off in the darkness for Snowdon.
My wife and kids think I’m strange but I really like running in the dark, on my own, in wild places. In fact I run all through the winter months up round Mugdock park in the evenings with my headtorch and occasionally my dog for company but this was slightly different. 1. I’d just swum 2.5 miles, biked 116 miles and run 16.5 miles and 2. I’d never been up Snowdon before so I had no idea what the terrain was like or had any landmarks to tell me how far I was from the top. Anyway, off I set and was still feeling good so set a great pace yomping up with my cheat sticks (trekking poles) and started overtaking people right from the start. The evening was mild and still at the bottom but by the time I reached the summit it was very windy and really cold so it was quick check in with the marshal (poor guy was up there all night) before turning round and heading back down the exact same route I came up. My legs held up ok but the rocks and long descent soon took their toll but I passed a steady stream of other runners still making their way up.
I finally dropped through the last gate and ran through the street back to the race HQ and the finish line. I mentioned Bolton and Lakesman earlier and their finish lines are crammed with people cheering, there’s music, commentators, photographers and a real party atmosphere. At the finish line of the Brutal, there is the marshal, my wife and a couple of sheep and it’s just after midnight, dark and a bit muddy – but the feeling of crossing it is no less sweet than any other race I have done! My Snowdon section was the 20th fastest of the day which brought me home in 16 hrs 35 mins for 34th out of 77 starters.
I have a habit of setting myself unrealistic goals for races which I inevitably fail to hit and so come away from events disappointed with my performance rather than happy with my effort and having enjoyed the event. I went into the Brutal with a different mindset, just wanting to finish and to enjoy the event and the time would be whatever the time was. Because of that, I enjoyed the race more than any other I have done since starting back on my triathlon journey 3 years ago and could not recommend it highly enough to anyone else wanting something a bit different and a bit challenging – Oh, and the T Shirts are awesome!
posted by Graeme Reid on