Helvellyn Triathlon


The Helvellyn Triathlon is no ordinary race. Potential competitors are strongly advised to ‘check out the route’ before they apply: probably to discourage those people whose idea of a triathlon is a quick dip in the pool followed by a gentle cycle ride around leafy country lanes and a run around the local park. And then there is the weather – the Lake District is notoriously wet, windy and often pretty cold. So it was a relief when this year’s Helvellyn triathlon began in relatively calm conditions by the side of Lake Ullswater on Sunday 6 September. At 8.00 am an excited rumour spread among the assembled competitors “they’ve shortened the swim” and so this was confirmed by the announcer; they had shortened the swim from 1 mile to about 1200 metres because the water temperature was just 11 degrees centigrade (or 52F for older readers), ‘skull-crushingly cold’ as it is described on the website; *** – shrinkingly cold as it is described by male competitors.

I was genuinely terrified as I waded into the black, icy waters of the lake. Could I swim nearly 1 mile in these conditions? The answer of course was “yes” and I felt a huge surge of elation as I exited the lake and headed for the bike. The first 27 miles of the bike ride are, in effect a scenic tour of the north-eastern Lake District in an anti-clockwise direction around to Ambleside. Hilly but nothing too hard until riders are directed left up an innocuous little lane that calls itself ‘the Struggle’. What they really mean is ‘hell on wheels’ – a brutal section of road that climbs nearly 1500 feet in less than 3 miles to the top of the Kirkstone Pass. Although I am a slow rider I was delighted to be one of a minority that managed to cycle up the whole of the ascent.

And so to the last leg. You’ve swum 1 mile in a freezing lake, cycled 38 miles around the Lake District and all you have to do is run 9 miles to the top of Helvellyn and back – at over 3,100 feet it is England’s second highest mountain. Maybe it was all those repetitions I did up Yatton Bank in the summer but something amazing happened – I felt fine! So fine in fact that I passed many competitors on the way up whose legs had gone; my eyes were locked on the back of my brother Michael, a tough competitor with excellent credentials over tough terrain. At one point I closed him down to 50 metres but with a mighty effort he got away from me on the ‘hands and feet’ scramble up Swirrall edge to the top of the mountain. I gave it everything on the way down, running freely when many others could hardly walk: their ‘quads’ had gone. I was astonished to find myself crossing the finishing line with a smile on my face in a total time of 5 hours 26 minutes; a full half an hour quicker than I had even dreamed was possible. The race that had filled me with dread for many weeks previously had instead been a thoroughly enjoyable outing. Something tells me there’s a little gang of Croft Ambrey runners just itching to try it next year …

Comment on this article

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.