Triathlon X

Report by Chris Higgins


Thanks for all the positive and congratulatory comments.

I thought a bit of a race report may be of interest to friends who do triathlons and friends who might fancy a go.


Triathlon X, voted the toughest long course Triathlon in the world by Triathlon Magazine.

Whoa, there’s a hook straight away. There’s others that would vie for that position, Celtman, Norseman, Swissman, etc. etc. I’m sure, but 220 Triathlon magazine held the survey.

So two years down the line I was having a sleepless Friday night in Ambleside worried I’d miss the three a.m. start in the morning. That didn’t happen and L.W. (lovely wife and top support crew) and I drove the short distance to the transition area at Watershead.

Though bustling, this was very different to say an Ironman event. By the way the name Ironman is actually a brand, like Nike or Tesco. It has however become synonymous with the ‘long course’ triathlon.

The X’ field numbers in the low two hundreds whereas an ‘Ironman’ your looking at two maybe two and a half thousand.

Right, parked up, unload what seems to be an unnecessary amount of kit. Rack the bike, go to the loo. Sort wet suit out. Go to the loo. Bike kit, Yep loo and so on.

Race briefing at four fifteen, swim start at four thirty, oh yeh, loo.

The swim, two point for miles, in Windermere, goes well, out of the water and head for transition and the bike.

Now, when your not much of a swimmer and therefore your swim takes an hour and thirty five minutes, two things generally happen. One, you continue to be baffled how the front swimmer is out in fifty six minutes and secondly, your body thinks your drunk.

For a long course tri most people will change completely into bike riding kit, particularly shorts. Others usually the forerunners opt for a Tri suit worn under the wet suit.

I’m no front runner so into the tented changing area where, amongst other half naked men, bearing in mind the effects of a long swim, you stagger about trying to pull dry socks onto dry feet with some dangerously close encounters. Enough.

Right on the bike. This leg consists of one hundred a twelve miles of cycling and it is this element in the X that affords if such status.

The bike route is fundamentally The Fred Whitton Challenge A route that most serious cyclists aspire to complete at some stage in their careers.

The route takes in all the major mountain passes in the Lake District. The climbs range from a gradient of 20% to the likes of Hardknott Pass at 33%.

It’s difficult to imagine what 33% looks and actually feels like to ride up. The best indicator I can think of is how the tarmac on these climbs is actually rippled, starting to run off before it has set. Rob McKay will bear me out I’m sure as being his neck of the woods or fells. (Rob, still can’t pronounce that farms name opposite The Woolpack, but helped me up Hardknott ‘

Whilst the climbs put your heart pounding in your ears, the descents tend to place it in your mouth. The slightest lack of concentration both sees your speed increase rapidly and the chance of injury rise in equal measure.

Blimey ‘the bike’ was hot until traversing Cold Fell, no clues how that got its name so exposed is it that seemingly no matter general temperatures, you could keep your milk fresh on Cold Fell.

Not the quickest by any stretch (there’s a theme emerging) the bike section was a tad under ten hours. Back to transition and L.W. change to run kit for , oh yeah, that marathon.Double check of run kit, no loo to be fair. Full body taped seems, maps, compass, head torch, foil blanket, food etc.etc. Mandatory list ticked off so off we go.

Fenella ran with me for the first seven miles which was so nice, having some company. The field in such an event tends to get pretty spread out so there’s a need to be content with your own company to a certain extent.

Arrive first check point, change of shoes and more food. Head up toward Scafell.

Weathers great, feeling good , surrounded by a film set.

Second check point ten minutes in hand but still a very long way to go. The valley floor has fallen away now giving way to a natural stone staircase that if not for completely ruining it could have done with a Stenna chair lift!

Eventually make Angle Tarn, another check point and another target to get to. Worryingly my time credit balance is rapidly draining. Final push to Scafell Summit, made it with literally seconds to spare. Had to spend a few moments soaking ‘it’ all in, stunning, clear sky, see for miles and miles. Need to go to make return check point times.

If you’ve been up Scafell you’ll know the descent and the ‘boulders’ . One minute the boulders seem perfectly and beautifully ordered like a giant pavement the next they are a maze of uneven leg traps.

Going ok now, heading down to Angle Tarn, tapping along nicely when my head decided to have a barney with Scafells igneous rock, no warning, down we go wallop. One second up we are next down we go. Not sure what’s happened or what the damage is, there is a fair amount of claret, what I’d have given for a drink, I can’t see out of my left eye, my hip, left arm and elbows aren’t at all happy. Bugger, at least there’s no one about so obvs it didn’t happen.

Mandatory run kit doesn’t include a mirror, don’t know why but there it is. However being a tech bloke like what I is took a selfie to assess the damage. Well that looks nice, no lasting damage but would frighten horses I suspect.

Struggling now to make final checkpoint before being timed out. Bit shaken, a lot cheesed off.

There’s three at least behind me and I catch up with one bloke who’s shouting and balling down his phone, presume he had a signal. He’s clearly had it and seem to be demanding that his partner come and….. you can guess get him. Hope he or she is a helicopter pilot.

Keep going forward, eventually make Dungeon Gill return, timed out as suspected. Completely forgot about the mess on my face so slightly bemused at marshals wide eyed look.

Never mind transition closes at twelve thirty, at least the course will be complete. Head torch feels a bit uncomfortable though to be honest as do the midges.

Ambleside, love it, day or night but particularly that night.

L.W. as ever patient if a little shocked. Race organiser as ever so far layer back looked at me said ‘ go and see that bloke and get you head sorted then come back and chat’ what bloke I asked, him in the ambulance says Mark.

Long old day it’s now gone twelve, people are still chatting about their individual adventures, Mark, race director dishing out pasta of some sort, friends, partners fellow competitors laughing and just being ‘great’.

Is Triathlon X the worlds toughest long course? Dunno, if I manage to get into Norseman I’ll have more idea.

Is Triathlon X a challenging event, run by local people in a beautiful part of the world, oh yes, yes that’s the one ???

Off to the High Tatra Mountains next month for Oravaman super excited, will do another write up if colleagues want. All very best

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