Helvellyn Triathlon – 2020
Mark Dixon

Helvellyn Triathlon – 2020

Event : Helvellyn Triathlon

After over two years of injury, slow comeback, Covid-19 restrictions and race cancellations I finally took part in a triathlon again, and oh what a race it was.

Helvellyn triathlon is brutal.  No other words will do it justice.  It is just brutal from start to finish.

The swim is freezing, the bike is seriously lumpy (especially if you train in East Anglia) and the run is well.. it's to the top of a mountain and back.

I registered on the Saturday in a torrential downpour, which was nice.

Stayed at the Glenridding campsite which was open only for the race weekend.  Good little site only 15mins walk away.

So to the race.

Swim was a double loop in Ullswater with an Australian exit.  Water was absolutely freezing!  At the end I struggled to stand on numb feet.  Disappointed with my 33mins time until everyone reported it was 300m long.  Although my Garmin had 1600m?  I think the swim was the driest and warmest I felt most of the day.

The bike course is just severe.  I've been biking okay lately but this destroyed me.  The first couple of miles are flat ish/undulating along the lake.  Then you turn left up a 3-4mile climb all the way to the A66.  At this point the rain started.  I found this climb really miserable.  Wet, cold and slow.  The A66 should have been fast, as there is apparently a big downhill section.  By this time it was raining and hailing so hard that I couldn't see more than 10m ahead.  I was so locked into my little bubble that I didn't even know it was downhill.  The left hand side of the road was a river and we were forced to the right of the white line.  Which is interesting in zero visibility with cars doing 60mph past your right elbow.  Not fun.  Eventually we turned left along the Thirlmere road, through Grasmere and all the Way to Ambleside.  This section again should have been fast, but it was just horrible and wet.  

Eventually we got to the “Struggle” up to Kirkstone pass.  This is one of the iconic climbs of the UK.  2.5-3miles at 20% gradients.  The first 1.5mile are a killer.  It then levels for a bit before kicking up to the summit.  32mins of utter pain.  Okay I'll admit I'm an idiot and didn't bother to change my front end gearing.  A 53/39, 30/11 setup was never going to cut it.  At one point I glanced down and I was doing 2.5mph!  Walking would have been quicker and if anyone else had dismounted I would have followed suit.  The descent was wet and slippery.  A guy had slid into drystone wall earlier and the traffic was backed up, slowing and eventually stopping us for a few minutes when the ambulance closed the road.  After standing stationary for 5mins or so in the rain we opted to clamber over a drystone wall and through a field, re-joining the road further down for the rest of the descent back through Patterdale to Glenridding. The guy who hit the wall ended up in hospital with broken ribs and a smashed Sacrum.  

I must admit I hated most of the bike.  I was a lot slower than I expected, partly my fault with gear selection, partly the road closure and obviously the weather played a massive part.  2hrs 32 was not in the plan and I was so pleased to get back to transition.

The run started reasonably fast for the first mile and then you have a couple of mile climb/hike.  Weather had changed to a murky cold drizzle and I actually loved this part.  There are a few runnable sections as you get higher and after going backwards all day I enjoyed passing competitors.  I caught and passed ex club member Chris Playford along this bit and had a bit of a chat while running.  The views up here are usually spectacular.  Usually.  We had a murky white-out for most of the ascent.  The last bit up Swirrel edge was awesome.  Its basically a craggy rock edge that you have to clamber over and climb to the summit.  I love this section and continued passing people.  I knew my hiking forays to this area would pay off eventually and I felt a lot more comfortable than others moving over this bit.  The rain was easing by now although the 0degC temperature was making it a bit chilly in lycra.  So to the top and miraculously the clouds parted and the sun began to shine through.  I now had a simple matter of a 5mile descent to the finish.  

So my downhill running ability is somewhat questionable.  I would say rather than the elegant, gazelle like style many of the competitors passing me exhibited, my style is more like a heavy footed elephant mincing its way downhill while trying to avoid breaking a toe.  Or a leg.  The last mile and a half the slope  gets easier and I finished the race with a bit of pace.  The sun shone as I ran through Glenridding and down the muddy finish chute.  My first race finish in 2 years and I happily collected my medal.  Run split was 2hrs 28.

All in all I really enjoyed this race and although the bike course utterly defeated me I had a great time.

At the end I stated “never again”.  I now can't wait to have another crack at it!

This is definitely a bucket list race and I would encourage anyone to have a go at it at least once.  Or twice.  Anyone fancy it next year?

Finish time 5hrs 42.


Published on 14th September 2020

One comment on “Helvellyn Triathlon – 2020

  • Mark Philo
    Mark Philo — September 21, 2021 2:09 pm

    Just to add to this. The 2021 edition was in nice warm and clear conditions with zero wind speeds. Lake was warm and clear. Race is still bloody nails mind you but made the whole experience much more enjoyable.

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