HOW TO RACE A DOUBLE IRONMAN
Bitterly cold, ferociously hilly and very, very long. The Brutal is one of the toughest triathlons in the world. So what’s it like to do it twice in one go? James Fargus recalls his hallucinatory weekend of starlit skies and giant squirrels…
It’s 5:52am on a Sunday morning and I was last asleep 23 hours ago. I’m freezing cold from the inside out and totally alone. I’ve been cycling in the dark for 10hrs. I long for a noise, a rustle of the wind, a passing car. There’s nothing but the voices in my head telling me it’s okay to stop. I’ve one bike lap to go before the double marathon run.
Finally, my arrogance has got the better of me. I wanted to find my limit and I’ve found it here in this cold, Welsh valley under what was a perfect starlit night, now smothered in freezing mist. There’s frost crystallising on my bike frame. One climb left and I can retire and be in bed warm, safe, asleep. I’m pulling the duvet over my head, bang, I hit a cat’s eye and wonder if I’ve just fallen asleep descending in the dark. I’ve nothing left to give. I’ve the last of my climbs up the Pen-y-Pass to do and then it’s a winding descent. Then bedtime. Abbo, my friend who passed away a year ago from cancer, and is the reason I’m here, would understand and tell me to stop.
I get halfway up the climb and I’m passed by a camper van, the first life I’ve heard for two hours. I need to stop for a wee and the van is now parked in the viewing area. It’s a beautiful spot, with great views of Snowdon, the highest mountain in Wales. I can’t wee as the inhabitants of the van are wandering around the car park. I cycle up the road a further 50m to pee in the verge next to a slate wall that’s the only thing between me and a drop to the bottom of the valley. Above me is Snowdon, towering imperiously, misty clouds shrouding its uppermost secrets, one for those competitors strong enough to discover the rest. The rising sun makes a glow around the back of the mountain. The night is over and something inexplicable happens in my head. I’m alive, I’m not beaten. I should be here. I’ve trained hard enough and have come so far. I have one more climb on the bike and then I’m running up Snowdon. I’m going to complete the Double Brutal for Abbo, for my support crew and for me. I’m finishing this f**ker.THIS IS REAL
The Brutal first started in 2012. It’s a savagely hard triathlon held over half, full, double and triple iron distances. Each discipline is set in the toughest circumstances. There’s no need for ceremony or pomp. The athletes here have come to find their limits. The swim is cold, the bike is mostly climbing, and the run is steep. This is no commercial-branded triathlon factory; this is real and you will get found out.
With a month to go before most iron-distance races, you ask questions like ‘have I trained enough’? For the Double Brutal, I’m asking if I’m insane, arrogant or stupid. My friends confirm all of the above. Apart from having arthritis, no cartilage left in my left knee due to a major accident, and various other minor niggles, I’ve learnt to live with them. The week before the Brutal is spent packing my kit into transition boxes, plus shopping for every conceivable food craving I may have over what’s likely to be 40hrs of exercising.
Friday is spent carb-loading in Llanberis, and an acclimatisation swim in the warmest part of the lake. The evening is spent making sandwiches, baked sweet potatoes and attending the race briefing conducted by Mark Yates, a former Triple Brutal completer, who I’ve been lucky enough to have as my Brutal mentor.
IT’S BUSINESS TIME
I wake up on Saturday, heart beating, my alarm hasn’t gone off. It’s 7am, I should be in the water. I panic and check my phone. It’s only 2am. I was dreaming. Back to sleep for a couple of hours. At 5am my alarm goes off and I’m into my trunks. My rental house is just over the road from the race HQ. I have a bowl of porridge and make two large Thermos flasks of coffee for the days ahead. I have a couple of large cups and crank up the 1990s house tunes on my headphones. And we’re in business.
The 7.6km swim is in Llyn Padarn, with eight loops just shy of 1km. Athletes must exit every two laps no matter their distance. If you’re brave enough to swim hard right