Archive for August, 2009
12km ~ 980m ascent ~ 920m descent ~ 6hrs 30mins
After being dropped off by my dad, and leaving a note of my route with the ranger station I began my 7 day trek at 3pm. WooHA!
I made my way up the side of the ski slope which with it being July was completely free of snow. 200m up I was surprised at how much my backpack was taking out of me, but figured I’d settle into it. 400m up I’d already drunk over 1.5l of water as my body tried to work out what the hell I was doing to it. Haha! I must admit it’s a bit of a kick in the nuts to have the vernicular railway running alongside me as I carried my 23kg bag.
From the top of the railway there’s a proper well made path with a hand rope and everything. I reached the top around 5pm. My first munro of the trip, Cairn Gorm, fittingly the one final one of my last attempt. Quick break for text update, photo and something to munch. Then off towards munro 2, Bynack More. I headed roughly north east towards a path on the map that heads towards The Saddle.
I wasn’t looking forward to this first descent. My memories of ascending it last time round were not pretty. It had been day 7 of trekking through the snow, my knees were sore, the route was steep and the weather was starting to warm meaning that almost ever step was going knee deep into the snow. It was hard, we were all tired, it was just an endless last push on a failed attempt at bagging all 18 munros of the Cairngorms.
As I approached and started down two things became apparent. Firstly there was no path, no matter what the map said, or at least I couldn’t see it. However secondly despite it being pretty steep it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought. The sun was shining, I was really happy to be on my way, the views were spectacular and the wildlife was beautiful.
As I descended it became increasingly apparent that despite me thinking I had made fairly conservative time estimates I was behind time. My initial plan had been to go to The Saddle drop my pack, go bag Bynack More, come back collect my pack and head to the Fords of Avon Refuge. However at my current pace, things weren’t looking good and I had read online that sunset was at 9pm. I really didn’t want to be out here in the dark, not on my first night.
As much as I had put up the tent during the week to remind myself how, I knew I wasn’t really trek ready. I hadn’t been on a trek in a long time, so was pretty sure that my first few days would include a bit of adjustment of kit position and packing etc.
With that in mind I changed my game plan. I decided I’d cut up towards Bynack More without going as far as The Saddle, head west towards a bit of a plateau, drop my pack, take Bynack, back to my pack, and down the southern slope towards the path leading to the Fords of Avon Refuge.
That’s exactly what I did. It gave me a chance to settle into the feeling of 23kg on my back, brush up on my navigation skills, check out some of the terrain in the distance that I’d be hiking in the coming days and try to get a better sense of my pacing.
I got to the top of Bynack More around 8pm and literally as I stood there the weather turned. My great scenic views disappeared as the clouds came in around me, a gentle welcoming from the Cairngorms as I made my way deeper into the mountain range.
On my way back to my bag I spotted the silhouette of another walker on the crest of the hill I was heading for, but by the time I got there whoever it had been was long gone.
The descent was steep, really steep! There were points where I rather unflatteringly chose to slide down on my bottom, the thick heather giving quite a cushioned descent. By the time I reached the path below, 9pm had come and gone, but the sun had not. The website I had looked had obviously given a sunset time for somewhere further south.
On my descent I had spotted someone on the path below so as I approached the Fords of Avon Refuge I started whistling so as not to startle them. Turns out it was a guy called Ben. He was doing a weekend trek, and was most likely the silhouette I’d seen earlier. He was planning on heading over to Ben Avon the next day, camping by a lochan just past it, and walking out on the Sunday. We chatted for a while as I put up my tent, which for some reason didn’t look right. He kindly pointed out that I’d put the outer cover on back-to-front. Cheers Ben! Can’t help but feel that saved me a lot of hassle later.
Gradually darkness descended and by the time I made dinner, ate, cleaned up and settled in I realised in was midnight! Sleep soon followed.
Let me just start by saying an Ironman is a triathlon event consisting of a 2.4 mile swim, followed by a 112 mile cycle with a finishing run of 26.2 miles, for a grand total of 140.2 miles. The best of the best can do it in 8 hours the cut-off time is 17 hours.
DAY 1 – Saturday
At around 830am I joined my team in the Transition area. As the name would suggest the transition area is where the athletes make the transition from Swim to Bike, Bike to Run. As a whole there were about 5 marques, a massive bike rack, 5 food stands, maybe 50-60 port-a-loos and one very muddy field. At 9am the athletes started bringing their gear consisting of their bike and two transition bags. It was up to us, the volunteers to make sure that each participant was checked off, that their gear had the correct race number on it, and that all the gear was placed in the correct place. That doesn’t sound hard, but there were 1500+ of them and maybe 20 of us. I spent the first couple of hours checking numbers as the athletes arrived, then a huge chuck of time making sure their run bags were placed on the correct hook in a way that was both secure and easy to remove. I got back to my hostel, with just enough time to grab a quick shower, go out for some food, and catch an hours sleep.
DAY 2 – Sunday
The sunday morning I was back at the transition area by 330am having got the first shuttle bus from the Reebok Stadium in Horwich. There was a distinct buzz in the air. We setup the body marking area, put on some head torches and at 4am we started one by one writing on each triathlete’s left arm and right calf their race number and category. It took almost 2 hours.
The race started just after 6 but I unfortunately didn’t get the chance to see it, at the transition are we had roughly an hour to reset in preparation for transition 1. For me this mainly consisted helping to make it as mud free as possible rolling out huge carpets over the muddiest areas and setting up the transition from field to road.
Finally an hour or so later I got to see some of the race. Or more specifically I got to see and cheer every athlete as well as warn them of the speed bump as they made their way up the initial hill on the cycle. That speed bump still claimed a silly amount of water bottles and food as the bikes jolted over it.
After sorting out all the blue transition bags, then all the white/dry bags in the town hall, and then set up the finish line, it came to what I had been looking forward to for weeks. Finish Line Catching!
The first person over the line was Graves with a time of 8 hours 45 minutes. The last person over the line did it in a time of 16 hours 59 minutes, the cut off is 17 hours. He did it with less than 25 seconds to spare. I LOVED being at the finish line! For just over 8 hours I clapped and cheered as athlete after athlete became Ironman after Ironman. Leave nothing to doubt, it was emotional! People were crossing the line who until that point were not sure they could do it. Yet here they were. Some people exploded with excitement and accomplishment, others fell to the ground their bodies and minds no longer able to keep them on their feet. Some people cried, some laughed, at least one vomitted. Haha! But they all had one thing in common, young or old, male or female, first timer or pro, they are all IRONMEN!
For me there were a couple of highlights. The guy who proposed to his girlfriend was one, he’d obviously planned it as he had a ring. Another was the very last person to finish. By this point it was just passing 11pm, though the finish line crowd had thinned they were still there cheering their hearts out at what these athletes had achieved. At a minute and a half until the 17 hours cut-off we could see him running up the final stretch a few spectators and crew members running along side for support. By this point the last of the spectators at the finish line were over the barriers forming a tunnel of celebration, willing, cheering the last runner in. Turns out one of the people running beside him was his son. They crossed the line together, a moment shared with the roars of excitement held by the crowd.
My final group of highlights were the handful of people who crossed the finish line, got given their medal, I took them to the side to get their timing chip and would then ask them how they were feeling. With some you could just feel how big an event it had been for them, but that something hadn’t quite sunk in yet. So I’d congratulate them, tell them they were now an Ironman, and something in them would click. Something in them knew that they were more than they had originally thought they were. That they were capable of pushing themselves beyond their limits to achieve their goal. It was such a pleasure and an honour to be there and experience that with them. To share that humble moment of realisation.
I had a truely amazing weekend! I hardly had any sleep, by the end my voice had been shredded, I’d probably spent 22 of the final 24 hours on my feet, but it was all worth it to see the 1266 people finish to become Ironmen. Human endurance is phenomenal!