9am start from Keswick. Almost civilised. Warmed up on the bike with Chris, didn’t know him before the race so good to chat a bit.
The first short ride is over quick enough with just a brief rain shower to cool things down a bit. On to lake Thirlmere I can see Team Accelerate up in front in their double and just a glimpse of Chris in the distance. Would be great if I can catch him by the end of the run although he ran a similar time to me yesterday so don’t get your hopes up. Calm conditions on the lake with Helvellyn towering above on the left. Accelerate seem to be doing something strange, zigg-zagging along on the left side of the lake.
They get themselves sorted eventually and not long after I overtake them – turns out they’ve had some rudder trouble. Chasing Chris, so hard to judge distances on the water, feels like I’m catching but can’t tell how much time I’ve made by the end – maybe 4 minutes from the 8 I started behind. Running up Helvellyn, not as steep as up Robinson yesterday, a lot is runnable. Chris up ahead seems to be running more than me but I still think I’m gaining. I start to pass a few other competitors as I near the top and the view disappears in the mist.
A brief hesitation just short of the summit, before I spot the checkpoint and start on down Swirral edge. It’s steep ground but I try to move fast – too fast. I catch a foot just before a 4 foot drop. Momentums still going forward, leap! Land, brake hard on loose rocks and regain control. That was close, too close, back it off a bit, fast but in control!
Past Team Adidas Terrex – looks like James Cracknell is not enjoying the rocks so much, past Ant and Sally, still chasing Chris. Over the stone wall, must be pretty much all down from here. Find a faster line on the grass and make up a lot of ground on Chris. Chris is moving slower than me on the technical ground so I try and go by quickly to get a gap but he speeds up and sticks with me. We both miss the track down and have to turn back when the lads (Matt and Dan) Team Accelerate fly by and point out the right way. Close to the transition now so just stick with Chris and make sure I transition quicker to get on the river first.
On the river, railing the ski heavily to avoid catching the rudder but I still have to jump out once or twice where it gets really shallow. Then a long slog down Lake Ullswater. I’m feeling the weight of the ski and lack of kayak training. Still this is the last kayak section so I force myself to keep the pace up and eventually I arrive at Pooley Bridge for the last transition.
The last ride of the day feels very lonely; perhaps everyone went a different way? The legs are really starting to struggle when the lads come flying past again. Right, we’ll see about that. I give chase and although they manage to pull away I finish just two minutes behind them which puts me two minutes ahead for the day. And it seems Chris was hurting as much on the last bike as we have similar splits and overall I have extended my lead by another 20 minutes. No complacency till the finish but things are starting to look good, even if I lose time on the next two days I should be able to defend a 40 minute lead.
Fi’s had a great day finishing over 30 minutes in front of Sally (who unfortunately punctured) to take the lead in the women’s field.
Running first today. I’m feeling pretty good and looking forward to my favourite kind of running – mud! The run up to Nine Standards Rigg is much easier than the previous two days uphill and I even seem to make up a bit of time on the lads. A black bib is in front – surely can’t be Chris, and it isn’t, Ant Emmett is having a hard time moving over the soft ground. Certainly a run which suits the lighter runners. I’m loving the run, leaping bogs, picking lines, the occasional fall but it’s always a soft landing.
Past Adidas again, I think James is less of a fan of mud than he is of rocks. Past Fi, she doesn’t seem to be moving so well. After a severe ankle injury at the Open12 the soft unpredictable ground is hard going for her. Some words of encouragement then carry on my way. Tiring a little as the track sidles above the creek and a few more falls but still going well and soon enough I’m back on the winter route and firmer ground. On to transition. Neil tells me the difference to Chris is 2-3 minutes. I had hoped to make up more time but then he says Chris is 2-3 minutes ahead so I’ve made up 6-7 minutes – much better.
On to the mountain bike, finally some proper mountain biking. Past Sally, she’s a long way ahead of Fi, going well, looks like the women’s race is getting interesting! Catch Accelerate when Matt has a fall, on an uphill fortunately so no damage done. Enjoying the riding – glad I’m not riding a cross bike! Across the river and along a flat bridleway and there’s a strange noise coming from my bike. Sounds like some grass caught somewhere and rubbing the rear tyre but a quick glance down reveals nothing like that.
Another 100m and I know what it is. The back tyre is definitely getting soft. I’m running tubeless but it’s been too long since I’ve checked the sealant and there is none left to seal the hole. Damn! I’ll have to stop and fit a tube. Stopped, bike upended, wheel out, my hands are cold and I’m struggling unscrewing the valve, fortunately another competitor stops and helps me out with some of the more fiddly tasks (I’ve forgotten you name but thanks very much by the way). Tube in, gas inflated and back on my way again. Accelerate have come back past but I cannot have lost more than a few minutes.
Tyre pressure is good for the rest of this stage but will be a bit low for the next road section, perhaps I should get a track pump in transition? Hike-a-bike up the hill then a couple of brilliant downhills to the transition at Castle Bolton. Forget about the pump, straight in and out again with just a drink bottle change and a half a banana.
Overtook Accelerate in transition however they come past again soon enough on their road tyres. Fortunately there is a stonking tail wind and the too-soft MTB tyres are not slowing me down too much. Apart from wishing I had slicks this is a fantastic road section, Flat to downhill for the majority and blowing about 40kph from behind. Doesn’t seem like too long before I’m at the finish in Northallerton. My crew are not here yet but I’m looked after by Mrs Halliday with bacon butty and jacket and John Houlihan buys me a pasty (thank you both, I’ll buy you a meal at the next open5 John). I’ve been beaten by Team Accelerate today but retain my overall lead. Also gained a few more minutes on Chris, tomorrow I just need to avoid incident and it should all work out.
Barring a major mechanical my first position in the individual race is secure however there are still overall honours to race for so once again it’s fast out of the blocks on the first road ride to Clay Bank. A glimpse of Accelerate as I come into transition but I’m not expecting to make up any time on them on the run – I’m rather expecting to lose time, just hopefully not too much. The run is another spectacular event, fields of purple heather and more great views.
The expedition racing is paying off and I’m feeling as strong as ever today, soon I see Chris in the distance and I steadily close the gap. Hitting the road down to transition Chris is just ahead. Sally is biking up the hill and I see Karyn (Fi’s support crew) driving out also. This means Fi has caught and passed Sally so must be going well today, looks like we might pull off a double win! I catch Chris right at transition and am out again before him and try to get a little break going back up the hill. No looking back from here, it’s head down, march up the hike-a-bike and then all speed possible to the final transition. Along the old railway cinder path there’s a fantastic tailwind again and it’s great fun blasting along. A short unpleasant slog into the wind follows. I catch up to Fi here. She’s well ahead of Sally and on track for a win. A quick pep-talk and then on my way again, chasing Accelerate who I get the occasional glimpse of in the distance.
My bike computer has disappeared – bugger, I liked that one (green and white if anyone picked it up), no worries, enjoy the descent down the ridge. Final transition, Accelerate and Adidas are both here. Quick transition for me (7s) then on the chase. Big effort up the first hill, dropped Accelerate and on with Adidas, Swap leads a few times throughout the ride although towards the end I’m starting to tire. Another push to catch them up just as we reach the cycle path along the old railway line. This should be easy now but it’s a slight incline and I can’t quite match James and Bruce’s pace.
They’re still in sight as I cross the main road. Through the gate, swing it behind me and on but… I didn’t hear it close, look back and it’s still open, held by the wind. Bugger! Turn around, back to the gate, slam closed and on my way again. Finally the track crests and heads downwards. A big sprint to build up speed and then spinning down the hill. Why am I chasing? The race is won, I’ve won overall, but that’s not really the point, there’s still a race to be had here so race we shall. If they stop to change shoes then I’ll have them. Into transition and they’re still here changing shoes. Drop the bike and off running in my bike shoes. Bruce gives chase and is with me but James is behind and so Bruce drops back. Enough foolishness, ease up, enjoy the finish. Robins hood bay is stretched out before me, the finish banner is there, it’s been a great race but most of all a fantastic journey.
I finished the Coast to coast course in a total time of 19 hours, 6 minutes, 6 seconds.
This was approximately 1 hour ahead of the 2nd placed Individual (Chris Hope) and 15 minutes ahead of the first team (Accelerate).
I was first overall on each day except day three when Team Accelerate were 4 minutes faster than me and I am in awe of some of the competitors who may be at the other end of the field, who spent much longer racing, had much less time to rest, who may not have known for certain that they could complete such an event, but who came and raced anyway.
Congratulations to everyone who participated in this year’s event. See you at the next one!
Photos courtesy of James Kirby and Martin Hartley
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