Written by Graham Smedley
After 60 hours 3 minutes and 4 seconds of the 2014 Enduroman Triple I fell asleep, having just crossed the finish line. I was 3 minutes and 4 seconds over the official IUTA cut off and the second to last finisher. The following year I finished the amazing Continuous Quin with just 40 minutes to spare of the 130 hours. I think it’s fair to say that racing the cut offs has been my norm since I took up ultra-distance events!
After the Quin I made a decision to become better on the bike – my goal was to enjoy Enduroman more by comfortably finishing inside the time limits. I signed up to Trainer Road and made my spare room ready for some indoor cycling, giving myself 9 months to improve my timings before I started the Enduroman Triple, with its 336-mile bike leg, for a second time.
The Trainer Road plans I followed resulted in fantastic gains from my low starting point. I combined this with a Herbalife 24 Sports nutrition plan which helped me to get the best out of my training and I was able to train during those 9 months for 5/7 days a week without ever having to lose a day due to ill health or tiredness. I also noticed an improvement in my longer trail runs as my legs, heart and lungs grew stronger.
I love the Enduroman weekend & this was to be our 5th in a row. The excitement grew among competitors and friends on Facebook and Strava and for the last few weeks I felt like a kid waiting for Christmas. My lake swim training was going okay and the bike training stayed on track. I finished the programs with 180 rides over the 9 months averaging 1.9hrs a ride and an FTP improvement of over 40%. I had also had 6 x 30 mile runs during the previous 7 weeks, so I felt ready to compete rather than just complete the Triple this time.
Preparing for the start…
Getting down to Avon Tyrell made it feel real and we spent Thursday afternoon setting up (my wife Claire did most of the set up whilst I chatted to fellow Tripler’s!). Thursday evening saw registration and the race brief and the excitement grew yet further. We had a 9am swim start so there was no stress getting off to sleep and I had a great night. In the morning we completed the set up with bikes into transition etc. Making sure I had all the Herbalife nutrition I had planned prior to the start, I was wet suited up and ready to go at 8:45am, nervously saying hello to fellow racers. A final swim brief at 8:50 from the wonderful Dan Earthquake and we were in the water ready for 29 laps of the very brown lake. Just before the start I realised I’d forgotten to put my nose clip on which caused a last minute panic, but Claire quickly found it and my sinuses were protected before the off!
The swim went nicely to plan, after the first lap or two the gaps between all became bigger and I had plenty of free water to do my thing. By around the 4th lap I’d lost count of the laps which was not a problem this year as the fast swimming Rob Dunnington has a clock placed on a jetty near the finish of the lap so I was able to ensure I was coming in on the hour. Even though I was expecting to be in for 4 to 4½ hours the time passed quickly. I busied my mind with things like trying to work out who I was passing or who was passing me, not easy as this year we were all getting rather “tanned” in the brackish water. My only mouth full of water came when I said thanks to the lap counter when he told me I was now on my last lap and I came out in 4:02 and 7th place.
My plan was to just go and get in my cycling kit and get going right away but Claire thought it an idea to get out of the wetsuit in the showers, that are right next to the swim exit, as we were all coming out of the water dirtier than we went in. It wasn’t a fast transition but then this was a Triple!
The bike leg
And so to the bike. This is what I had been looking forward to as I really wanted to see what my training had done for me. Over the previous 3 years of Ultra Tri’s at Enduroman my bike loop average time was around an hour – making me amongst the slower cyclists. I had my heart rate monitor on with the aim of staying around 110-120 bpm as I believed that would give me the average speeds I was looking for. My first laps were good times for me, in fact over the first 5 hours before coming in to refill my bottles I was doing between 42-45 minute laps. However I quickly noticed that my heart rate would not come down below 150 and was hitting 155 at times even on flattish sections even though I was not pushing it. I didn’t panic as I knew some of this would be down to the excitement of the day and also of course I had just swum for 4 hours. Eventually it came down and I was able to trundle along under 50 minute laps at around 120-130. I really enjoyed the bike and was really comfortable on the saddle. I had 5 hours of nutrition on at a time so rather than worry about ticking off laps I was able to just enjoy the ride, avoid the horses and stay out of trouble through the village of Burley!
After the first 5 hours Claire told me I was holding 7th and I was pleased that no one was passing me and lapping me, which is my normal experience. After the next 5 hours, and before Claire went off to sleep prior to her attempt at the 100 mile run (we’re very much in this endurance world together!), she advised me that I was still holding a good position. My plan was to ride through the night; my nutrition would allow me to do this. Others, some faster cyclists, would be taking short breaks to sleep and I figured that this is where I would have an advantage. During the night I just had two incidents of note. A battery failed as I was coming down a fast section at the start of the loop, at over 30 mph I had to quickly get my spare light turned up, and just in time to see a mother and foal crossing the road! A little later a fox cub and I startled each other and then played road tango before he dived back into the hedge – just before I did!
When Claire woke at 6am and checked on the results site she was pleased to see that I had moved up to 4th place which gave me a great boost when I came in for my next bottle fill. By the end of the ride I had moved up to 2nd and was only a little more than a lap down on Jozsef, the race leader. I was lucky that I had zero issues on the bike. I saw a couple have punctures and one rider, Tiernan Simmons, almost get wiped out by a kid on a push bike. 24:45 for the bike was around what I had trained for but hadn’t dared hope for! Things were progressing well…
T2 had to be done on my own as by now Claire was running her own race. Although I was quicker than T1 I was still much slower than Jozsef who, on looking at the results afterwards, was clearly racing given the speed of his transitions. I had come in off the bike just a few minutes ahead of Matthew Pritchard who had recently completed 30 ½ Iron man races in 30 days so didn’t want to hang around as I realised that at this point I had a chance of a podium. With Matthew so close and his brother Adam not far back I knew I could quickly find myself in 4th so the first marathon was all about running as well and as often as I could to maintain and eventually extend my lead over them. It took a while, and it could well be that they had no idea I was racing them, but eventually I pulled away as they had to deal with some feet issues off the bike. I was also beginning to feel the effects of the ride in the forefoot so I stopped into see Sue at Extreme Medics. I remember her saying at my first visit to Enduroman when I ran the 100 miles that if you feel a problem coming on get it sorted right away. This was probably advice taken that would have a direct result in what I was able to do later in the run.
So having put a few laps between me and 3rd place I started to turn my attention to the leader. Jozsef is a powerful runner and an endurance legend having won the Triple Deca a few years ago averaging under 12 hours for his 30 iron distance days. My second marathon was all about keeping him just the one lap, 1.1 miles, ahead of me. This would mean running through the second night and again I planned to take no sleep unless absolutely necessary. By keeping going, in my mind, I was also keeping him going and not allowing him time to rest. I knew by now he had trashed his legs on the bike and later I discovered he was suffering with blisters so although I was in completely unfamiliar territory it was very much race on. My friend, Steve Fullard – winner of last year’s Continuous Quin, had given me some great advice about negatively splitting on the last marathon. I was waiting for lap 48 to come. I was feeling great, although during the night Jozsef had got by me whilst I was making myself a cup of Thermo – the problem of racing with no crew I guess!
The 5 laps leading up to the 48th were quite frustrating as I was ready to go but didn’t want to go too early. I used the laps to sort myself out with toilet breaks, Thermo, sun cream etc. So that when 48 came along there would be nothing to put me off my stride. As I went over the timing mat I asked Tony in the timing tent to confirm my laps, it was Go Time. I picked up the pace; the lap starts with a small climb followed by a nice downhill section. The lap ended with a faster pace and a concerned look on the faces of Jozsef’s crew! I steadily wound up the pace and was soon four laps into the last marathon and 8 minutes up on my target and feeling great so I didn’t back off. By now Jozsef’s crew were reacting and I had fun running hard and serious faced through the finishing circle where the crews were set up, now I didn’t want to give him time to eat. By 6 laps I had caught and passed him to no lie just a lap behind. He reacted by upping his own pace and staying with me and when I ducked into our awning on the side of the course where we were set up he went by. We were running up the root covered hill at the end of the course now and as we came round to turning circle I was on his heels, did I see his crew throw down some food they had planned to give him? (I like to think so!)
This was my favourite lap – we hit the top of the downhill section together and I just went for it, almost fully sprinting down towards the lakes. I didn’t slow down much as I took a sling shot round the lake to drop him. My plan was to get away from him enough that he could no longer see me and I could ease off for a few laps before going again to gain the lap I was now down. I pushed on, checked at the timing mat that we were on the same lap, and carried on round for another good tempo lap. My attack had to this point lasted 2 hours and I felt great. When I came round again I was told I was in the lead, Jozsef had gone in for food. Great I thought, he is going to refuel and then come out and teach me a lesson. I got round the next two laps as quickly as I could but there was no news of what Jozsef was doing, no one had seen him and I began to think I had done it already – mistake! I checked the results page when I went for my nutrition and it showed we were on the same lap, due to an issue with my timing (I’d done two laps without my chip after getting my feet taped) I was missing two laps on the system – this meant I was two laps ahead. Not long after this though I was given the good news that the laps had been added back on so all my friends following on-line would know I was in the lead – so we were level, and then on that lap Jozsef appeared on my shoulder, smiling, and off he went to test me. I passed the test, after a lap he and TC started to laugh and Jozsef tells me he thinks I am a lap up and with only 6 to go and me running a little better than him that was good news – but I wasn’t sure. We checked at the timing mat and were told we were level, race back on. We had 6 laps, about 6.6 miles to go and I felt strong. I don’t know how he came up with it but Jozsef suggested we didn’t attack each other for a while and we race the last lap. I agreed, but initially wished I hadn’t. If he beat me on that last lap I would still have come second to a legend and have proved my training and nutrition plan, but believed I was in a position to push on.
We spent our time chatting and getting to know each other, running in the shade, walking in the sun and up the hills. Word got out that this is what we were up to and as we ticked off the laps that last effort started to play on my mind. Jozsef would make a big deal of huffing and puffing every time we went up a hill to show me how tired he was but I wasn’t buying it – I still felt I was the stronger at this point but didn’t want to let his mind games make me think I might have it easy.
Claire proved she is an awesome nutrition coach as she had put out a couple of our products for me to use over the last couple of laps that would help me give it all I had when our race got going, our secret weapon – that we tell everyone about! So I made sure they were in me on the penultimate lap. We got to the timing mat for the last time and, in the tradition of Enduroman we turned to do our last lap in reverse order. This is so that people can see who is finishing and its high 5’s all round. We turned to cheers from the crowd; we planned to race from around half way so that we avoided the tree root slope and some steps, safety first when racing after over 51 hours! We also agreed that we would not race down round the turning circle so that we didn’t trip each other up –so it was a race to the top of the hill, a hill that went on for about 500 metres.
We stopped at the boathouse; I nipped in for a wee to get down to racing weight. We waited for a couple to go by as we would be racing around a narrow track and one of them, my friend Ian, said Ready, Steady, Go for us. Now I’d expected Jozsef to jog around and try to power me up the hill – he went off like a train! Within seconds I was 10 meters behind him and thinking it was all over, it flashed into my mind how disappointed everyone at the finish would be as they were looking forward to a race to the line, so I hung on and his lead didn’t grow.
We spread around the first part of the lake and approached the first small sharp rise and he slowed, I didn’t and went past him just as we went by Enduroman legend TC who shouted some well-meant abuse at us! Round the back side of the lake we went with me just ahead and him sounding like he was right behind me. I slowed a little to go through the most technical part of the course and to gather myself for the hill to the finish. We hit the bottom of the rise with people offering high 5s which I tried to oblige with (sorry if I missed you!) and we set off for the final show down. I had the lead but knew he would surge and he did as we approached half way, as he drew up to me I pushed harder again. Towards the finish the track kicks up and that is where I planned to put in everything I had in a final effort to win, I guess he planned the same as we hit it and I heard him make his effort. By now there were people on the side of the track cheering us on and I could tell he was close. It was time to go, with one of my motivation videos playing in my mind “I will win or die trying” I gave it everything I had. We both went flat out. After a few moments I heard the crowd roar and sensed I had him, we shot over the rise and onto tarmac with about 25 meters to go to our finish point. People were calling for me to keep going but as I hit the top of the hill and turned to run down to the turning circle I knew it was mine, I looked back to see him a comfortable distance back. I came round the turning circle barely able to breath, sucking in air and getting in as many high 5s as I could. Over the timing mat and round to the finishing arch. I fall to the floor, lay on my back and gasped for oxygen, I’d won. 10 seconds later the ever popular Jozsef finishes and I hear Dan Earthquake calling for the medic. At the end of my first triple they called the medic because I’d crossed the line and fallen asleep on the spot and they thought I’d collapsed, this was totally different!
Racing is a totally different beast to going round to complete the course, and for me in that moment it was a lot more fun! The feeling of winning my first enduroman was incredible and I have learnt a ton of valuable lessons along the way. Prepare hard, train hard, have a great crew to support you, figure out the timings you need to hit and be meticulous about what you need to do to achieve them. But most of all – believe you can do it. Mental belief is equally as important as the physical tools and I feel that my positive state of mind was instrumental to my win. At 53, I hope I’ve shown that if you apply yourself and are determined enough, you can achieve anything.
Later in the year I have a 100 mile run planned along with an attempt at the Double Brutal – but for me now it’s all about next year and the DECA UK – the training plan has started…