the Double Brutal Extreme Triathlon – race report

Normally, a story about an extremely hard race ends with thanking the Support Crew involved. Unfortunately, most people skip those last lines of a race report, so this time, let’s start with The Crew… Let’s just say I could never, ever, ever have finished without the most awesome team I can imagine; both in Wales (Eline, Ido, Maike, Robert and Stijn) and back home (too many names to mention, but all those involved in my year of hard work, you all know who you are!). Seriously; racing an extreme race is a team sport, and although I’m the one who crossed the finish-line, in the end, it’s a huge team that made it to the finish!

So, back to the beginning… Although I might mention The Team again somewhere later…

The week before the race I am totally relaxed; there’s a little bit of running, a short swim in Llyn Padarn, and a nice few hours on the bike (riding with Mark Yates on his 8th day of his deca-triathlon was a perfect final bike session!). Other than that, it’s all about trying to relax, and eating (a lot…).

Llanberis, early morning, september 10th 2016

It’s a beautiful early Saturday morning, and I’m driving into Llanberis. I get a bit emotional; it’s been a year of hard, hard work, and today (well, today and tomorrow…) is what it’s all been about. The once impossible goal of finishing a Double-iron triathlon is about to become possible…
Normally I’m really stressed before a big race; now I’m just enjoying the atmosphere, chatting with my friends, and looking forward to the start. The only moment that my state-of-mind is almost disrupted is when I see that I have a flat tire, on race-morning at 6AM… Then again, it’s a race with a support-crew, so I don’t stress about it too much, and just tell The Crew to take care of it…

In the tent I finally shake hands with Jim Page; great to finally meet him after only knowing him from social media, have a short talk with Justin (race marshall and epic supporter), and find Mark at the swim start. Great to be on this journey with all these crazy people around me (both the ‘old’ friends and the new ones!).

Llyn Padarn, 8AM, saturday

Time to get into the water! I find a place on the outside; I don’t want to be fighting for a spot with people racing the half or full distance. The water is nice and warm (well… as warm as a swim in this lake can be… probably about 17 degrees). I decide to keep swimming on the outside during the first two laps: quickly finding my own rhythm, and it feels better to swim a few extra meters than to get caught up in the crowd. After two laps I exit the water, get some jellybabies and a drink, and go back into a slightly less crowded lake… Now it’s only full- and double distance swimmers on the course, and the mental game is to spot as many red caps as possible (the half and full distance are wearing green, the doubles are wearing red). It helps me to keep my mind busy, and before I realise it, there’s another two laps done… At the exit I check my watch, and see that I’ve swum over 5km’s… That should be a glitch in the gps-signal! But, since I love my race-data (especially from a race like this!), I have a ‘backup-watch’ on my other wrist, and that also shows over 5km… Back in the water I realise that this means that the swim will be over 10km, instead of 7.6 (I’m still able to do the math… 24 hours later I probably can’t say what 2 times 5km is…). I’m surprised that I feel totally relaxed about that; it’s going to be a long race anyway, so those extra 2.5kms in the water don’t really matter…

During lap 6 I start to get slightly bored; it’s lonely in the lake, and although the views are amazing, it just feels like it’s time for something new… At the exit I tell Marshall Justin that I’ve done 8km, so I’ve done the race-distance. He just tells me ‘two more laps!’ with a big smile… So, back into the water, two more laps to go…
After almost 3,5 hours I exit the water, having done a little over 10km. What I don’t know then is that I’ve just improved my 10km PB by a few minutes…

A short run (well, more of a fast walk) to the tent, and then it’s time for a really slow transition… Really, there’s short-distance triathlons that have finish-times faster than my transitions during The Brutal… But the plan is simple; put on dry clothes, eat, drink, eat some more, and go to the bike… I think that my Crew is doing a great job taking care of me, but I don’t see that half of the team is missing; they went out on the bike-course to support Ido, who’s racing the half, before he will rejoin The Crew…
When I reach my bike I’m happy that my flat tire is fixed, only to find out… that I have a flat tire… (in defence of The Crew; they didn’t fix it themselves, but left it to a professional, who clearly had a bit of an off-day…). Maike and Robert re-fix the tire, while I start to eat some more, and then it’s time to go for a nice little ride…

Llanberis, 12 midday, saturday

It’s great to be on the bike… The first lap goes exactly as planned; the first part out of Llanberis is fast, the climb at Waunfawr feels terrible (as expected), then it’s just enjoying the course, until the climb to Penn-y-pass. From there it’s all about finding a steady rhythm, making sure to look at the beautiful views, and from the top of Penn-y-pass it’s all about going downhill, and cruising back into Llanberis… Seems so easy that it shouldn’t be a problem to do that 8 times today!
After the first lap I stop at transition, and the team works like clockwork. Stijn asks me about how I feel and what my power output is, and Eline and Maike make sure my pockets are filled with new bars and gels (although I only found out about that teamwork when I saw the pictures… During the race I never wonder why there is always enough food in my pockets…). I think during this stop I was told for the first time that I really had to eat and drink more…Lap 2, 3 and 4 follow the same protocol; although the friendly reminder to get more food in is starting to get a bit less friendly (nutrition is always my problem during longer events…). At a certain point the only reason why I keep drinking is that I know my Crew is going to kill me if I turn up at transition with completely filled bottles… Somewhere during these laps Ido finishes his half, so I now have a Crew-member wearing a Brutal medal…

After lap 4 there is a short break; a quick pasta and some soup, and then it’s time to put some lights on…
Riding in the dark is easy, until the road goes either up, or downhill… During the downhills I’m worried to miss a turn, or to hit a pothole, so The Crew decides to follow me by car during the downhills to shine some extra light. I didn’t expect the uphills to be this challenging though; normally you shift gears when you see the gradient changes, now all you can do is shift when you feel that it changes… Therefore you’re always slightly too late, and can’t get into a nice rhythm… Well, that is mainly a mental challenge…
Nutrition is becoming a bigger problem now; I not only have trouble eating, I also don’t want to ride and eat at the same time; the darkness, combined with sometimes bad roads, and the fatigue makes me a bit nervous on the bike. The Crew decides to stop at certain lay-bys and force me to stop there as well to eat… By now The Crew is working in nightshift mode; Maike, Robert and Ido are sleeping, while Eline and Stijn are driving. After lap 6 there’s a short pasta-diner break, and Ido comes out to replace Eline (it’s a long race when your support-crew has to make a schedule who sleeps when…). Lap 7 is fairly easy, and during lap 8 I am smiling all the way… The Crew stops me on top of Penn-y-pass for a minute, just to make sure I’m awake enough to go into the final descent…
Back to transition, and when passing the ‘Welcome to Llanberis’ sign I get a bit emotional… 375km’s on the bike done, only a run to go!

So, quickly into the tent for another epic slow transition… Then to the medic for the check (I think the official check is ‘are you insane enough to continue? ‘ if the answer is ‘yes’, good luck…), and with support of Maike I start to go up a mountain…

Mount Snowdon, 05.30AM, Sunday

When we leave the road and get onto the mountain path, it’s getting light. Going up Snowdon at sunrise on a clear morning makes for the best views imaginable. I’m filled with energy, there’s no sign of sleep deprivation, or fatigue from almost 24 hours of racing. The only signs that tell me I’ve been going for a while are nutritional troubles; I just can’t motivate myself to eat and drink. Luckily, Maike is there to force-feed me chocolate. It goes on and on: ‘at the next turn I’ll give you some chocolate, and at that white rock over there it has to be gone’… ‘You see that rock over there? There you have to take a drink’. Serious, sometimes I’m not having too much fun on the mountain… But I know she’s right, so I try to take in the food she gives me, until, just after passing a medic station, I have to vomit by the side of the path. When we went on I complained that it’s quite weird that a medic doesn’t even check if you’re ok when you’re being sick just a few meters from his station, but then Maike tells me it might have something to do with a big smile and thumbs up she gave him… Sometimes I think my friends are only here to see me suffer…

We make it to the top, and by now we’re walking in the clouds and wind, so it’s gotten quite cold. A quick picture at the summit, a handshake with the race-marshall out there, and we’re on our way back. I’m not the best mountain-runner (that’s an understatement), so uphill we walked most of the way, but now I’m able to run a bit. Getting further down I can run a bit more, and the last part I’m actually making some progress. Weirdly, my legs still feel fresh, even after being on the move for quit some time! Now it’s a fast run over the road to get back into the tent, and go for another slow transition to the next part of the run…

Llanberis, the easy laps around the lake, 09.30AM, Sunday

I’ve been calling this lap ‘the easy lap around the lake’ all year for a reason; not because it’s easy, since it isn’t… (when you run it just once it’s pretty easy, but when you have to run it eight times… well, just keep reading and decide for yourself…). I call it ‘the easy lap’ to trick my own mind, and not get a panic-attack with eight laps to go… 20kms of mountain ‘running’ done, 64km’s of easy laps to go, doesn’t sound that bad…
During the laps there is a support-runner with me at all times; to help me with nutrition, to keep me focussed, and to distract me from the pain that should inevitably come… Robert is running the first lap with me, and although I had expected that by now I would be painstakingly slow, and suffering badly, I am flying… The first half of the lap is flat, and we run a steady fast pace, after the flat part we let the terrain decide where to run and where to walk, but we run fast enough to wonder what would happen if, after this lap, the next support-runner isn’t ready yet… It feels like a bad joke… But when entering the transition area there’s no fresh support-runner… Turned out we’ve been running the lap way faster than any of The Crew expected!
It takes less than a kilometre for Eline to join me in lap two, then Ido (recovered from his Half-Brutal the day before) on lap three, and then I take my first break. Just sitting in a chair for a few minutes feels like heaven, even with The Crew trying to feed me stuff… I try and eat a bit, and then it’s back for lap four…
From here on out the memories become a bit of a blur; although the first 3 laps were really nice, and pretty much pain-free, now the pain starts to kick in. I have to start walking more often, but I’m just happy that I can still run the flat parts of the lap, and the downhills. After every lap a short break to eat, and The Crew decides to also come out for support (and more food) at the halfway point. Lap 4 done, lap 5 done, lap 6… well, halfway lap 6 something amazing happens; at the halfway point The Crew is standing with some food and some moral support. At that point I have no idea how long I have been racing, or whether I am in first place or last. When Stijn tells me I am in fifth place I can’t believe it… It gives me a huge boost of energy (unfortunately that energy is gone a second later), and I get quite emotional… After lap 6 a short break, and now finally the pain has come… I can still run the flat parts, but it does hurt more than I can describe, the only thing that’s more painful is walking the ascents. But I push the pain away; now it’s a race for fifth place! Lap 7 done, only one to go…
But when I sit down before the final lap I only want to sleep… I’m in pain, and I am sóóóó tired… The Crew has no mercy, and all I hear is ‘1 minute to go’… As planned, they decide how long (or short!) I get to rest…

I need help to get out of the chair, the body doesn’t do anything anymore, and the mind is also pretty much gone. But the only way to end this is to keep moving, so I’m slowly walking out of the tent. Twenty meters after that, I’m actually running… By now it’s a pure mental game; I’m running until the climb at the halfway-point, then walk up that hill like a zombie.

Then there’s still some energy to run downhill into the forest, but the final climb of the day takes forever… At the top I need to sit down for a minute (although support-runner Maike tries to tell me I have 30 seconds). Then it’s a slow run downhill, and then ‘full speed’ over the event field and over the timing mat! 35 hours, 49 minutes and 3.9 seconds (seriously, the race-timing of this race works with tenths of a second, probably in case of a sprint finish!) and I’m done… A hug from Brutal Claire herself, a medal, some photo’s and then The Crew supports me into the tent and a minute after the finish I’m on a bed feeling sick, tired and happy with a fifth place finish on the hardest race I have ever done…

Now it’s three weeks later, and it’s funny to see that in these weeks there’s one question that keeps being asked: ‘what’s next?’. The answer; ‘I don’t know…’ But it is slightly addictive to set a goal that seems impossible, so who knows…

And, just as this race-report started it ends; a HUGE thanks to The Crew: Eline, Ido, Maike, Robert and Stijn… And to Claire and the amazing Brutal-team for putting up a first-class event!!!

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