Team Orion – Stuart's success at Coast to Coast (Part 1)

9am on the 26th August 2011 sees me in Whitehaven on the west coast of the Lake District preparing for the 4 day Adidas Terrex coast to coast race. Why am I here?  Well 2 years ago I wanted to do this race but I could not as I was racing in Idaho with my adventure race team.

This year it’s less than a week since I finished and won the 5 day expedition race Expedition Idaho with Team Thule.  I should be having a week of recovery but I’ll be damned if I going to miss the coast to coast again and have to wait another two years.  So the last 3 days since flying back from the states have been franticly un-packing, re-packing, arranging a ski to borrow, begging the boss for another day off work and generally scrambling to get ready for this event.

I’m almost there, I’ve got Tom Gibbs’ spec ski, stolen half of my girlfriends (Fiona) support crew, figured out where to go on the first day and made it to the start line.  Just need to find Bruce Duncan to borrow a flare, test out the ski and I’m ready to go.

In the water before the start. Got the flare, the ski is a bit on the short side (fixed leg length) and heavy, but workable.  I figure I might lose some time to the Ocean racing skis on calm water but on anything a bit chopped up I should be fine.

The gun goes and we’re off. Ant Emmet seems marginally quicker on the flat water in the harbour but as soon as we hit the open ocean I sense that I’m pulling away.  No looking back now it’s concentrating on catching runners, paddling strong and efficiently.

The too-short ski means I can’t get a proper leg drive going but that’s maybe not such a bad thing as I’ll be calling on those legs for a lot more work this afternoon.  The coastline is stunning but cannot get too distracted as some waves rebounding off the cliffs necessitate the occasional brace stroke.

Soon enough I’m at St Bees, jumping off the ski just before hitting the stony beach and up into transition.  A few words of encouragement from Neil (support crew) and others and then I’m heading up the road on the bike.   Two corners later, getting into a rhythm and then stop! Damn, rail crossing gates are down and no train in sight. Off the bike, up over the footbridge, back down the steps, back on the bike and on my way again.  Not bad really, forget about the delay and concentrate on the ride – eat, drink, hammer.

End of the ride, thanks for the signs. Into transition, Neils not around but there is my gear so PFD on and down to the water, Neils on his way back from tying my running shoes to the boat, more encouragement then paddling down Crummock water.  Perfect conditions for paddling, glassy calm and stunning scenery. Now where to exit? There was something in the notes about a river on the right, a stone wall? Definitely not supposed to use the shallow river so exit early to be sure then shoes on and start the portage.

Wish the boat was lighter. (Spec (surf lifesaving) skis must weigh at least 18kg by regulation as opposed to Ocean racing skis which are commonly not much more than 10kg).  Glad I’m not trying to use portage wheels though – this is not a smooth path!  Try to jog the flatter / downhill bits then finally Buttermere lake appears before me and I can put the boat back in the water where it belongs.

A short paddle down Buttermere, fortunately there is a flag making the get out point and then a final portage across the field to the transition.  Neil is ready with run gear, dropping a drink bladder in my backpack and then sending me on my way telling me that it looks like I “pulled away again on the kayak”.  My morale takes a dive, it’s positive encouragement but all I hear from it is the unsaid “you lost time on the bike” and I was working hard on the bike!

Now is the real test though, I haven’t run at all since finishing the race in Idaho and this hill before me does not look gentle. This will be the real test to see whether I have recovered enough to have a chance of pulling this off.  Just start out steady, concentrate on getting into a good pace – although I should really do something about those flapping lace.. SNAP. Shit!  Quick-lock laces for speed and now I’ve snapped one and have to stop and retie what’s left a couple of eyelets lower.  Spending precious time fixing up a time saving device – irony perhaps?

Damn but this hill is steep, looking back there’s a black bibbed racer starting the climb below me, 5 minutes back? More? Doesn’t make any difference, all you can control is your own performance so keep pushing to the top and over the other side. Enjoying the running now, brilliant views out each side of the ridge and some fast technical running – a bit faster when the helicopter shows up. A couple more glances back reveals a team in white bibs but no black bib. Keep pushing on. A bit of hesitation finding the path to Nicol End then it’s off the legs for the swim.

Enjoying this, the water is nice and cool after running and got a nice swim cadence going. Cycle jersey is a bit heavy, should have ditched it but no matter.  Out of the water, shoes are waiting for me just got to put them on and… AARGH, CRAMP! – ignore it, shoes on, forget the laces, straighten legs. Just got to run to the finish now, left or right? No idea, pick left. Running, turning right, running, turning right, running, turning right! Feels wrong and yep, there in front of me is the swim exit – how did I do that?  Try again back the other way and yep, there’s the path I missed. Through town, probably should take off this swim cap but that would take effort and currently there’s none spare. Finally to the finish and stop, relief, relax.

That’s day one done and dusted, nearly 20 mins up on Chris Hope, with a few minutes more back to Ant. A good start. Fi’s overtaken by Sally on the swim, sounds like they were close all day. They kayaking definitely helped me today, got one more day with kayaking to build a lead which I can then try and defend on the last two days.

Read part 2 of Stuart’s blog

Photos Courtesy of James Kirby