Extreme Triathlete Chris Stirling has some last minute tips for anyone brave enough to take on the 2016 Braveheart 70.3 triathlon next week
“There’s no doubt that the Braveheart Ben Nevis Triathlon is a very different challenge to your normal 70.3 triathlon. For me it easily falls into the extreme triathlon category and not just because it visits the summit of the UK’s highest mountain on the run leg – the cold swim and exposed bike ride will challenge the hardy souls brave enough to take on the event.
“I have been lucky enough to have competed in many races of this type over the last four years so thought I would share a few tips from my experience about how to approach the race, from kit choices to dealing with the extra challenges the race will throw along the way. As the race is less than two weeks away, hopefully the training is taken care of and we can start looking forward to the adventure!
“Due to the extreme nature of the course, consider how long it is likely to take you to complete the race. This has implications for the kit you choose to use/wear and your nutrition plan. If you are used to the challenging terrain, adding one and a half hours to your normal 70.3 race time may be a good estimate – if conditions are very good, if not expect to take at least two hours longer as a minimum – but to be sure plan for an extra two and a half hours. If conditions become really bad it could take a lot longer!
The mountains and the weather
“This is a really important one, whatever the forecast says, prepare for the worst. Bear in mind that it can snow on the top of Ben Nevis in September and conditions from the valley to summit can vary wildly. The bike course is also pretty exposed and much higher up than your average triathlon so plan accordingly. I am sure the guys have booked some nice weather but just in case, here are a couple of useful weather links.
“It’s a sea swim on the west coast of Scotland, its going to be a little colder than most lakes! Expect 12 to 14 degrees centigrade. There is a useful site here: http://www.seatemperature.org/europe/united-kingdom/fort-william.htm
“Try to get in the day before if you cannot train in colder water before, so you know what to expect on race morning.
“I have a routine I use for getting in to cold water that I find works really well. It takes a bit of time so plan for this, don’t leave it till the very last minute to get in, that is only likely to lead to shock, panic and a bad start to the day.
- Warm up, go for a run, wave your arms around, whatever you need to do to get some warmth and a layer of sweat inside your suit.
- Enter the water slowly, splash your face, the back of your neck and then relax, by floating on your back for a few seconds.
- Swim a few strokes front crawl/breast stroke but get your face in the water. You might feel a bit breathless to start or get an ice cream headache but don’t worry, your body will get used to it and adjust.
- Keep moving, swim 10 strokes hard, 10 easy and keep treading water hard to stay warm.
“Once the race starts and you get moving you will warm up, I promise, so remember that or use the mantra ‘when I start, I’ll get warm’ until the race starts!
“Consider using a neoprene warmer vest under your suit, I use a Zone 3 one and have never been cold during a swim. With all kit, try out before race day.
“Possibly the least extreme leg of this race but not without extra challenge, your choices here could have a huge impact on the rest of the race. Looking after yourself by staying warm (warm leggings, foot warmers) and as comfortable as possible during the bike can be the difference between finishing the race and having to pull out or worse. Taking a few minutes to change and get comfortable is better than a fast T1 and hypothermia/exhaustion later on.
“If its windy, a good tip is to keep pedalling if possible, even if it’s just turning them slowly in a big gear, I find this feels much more stable than just coasting.
“Or possibly mountain walking on the way up after the swim and bike! From sea level you’ll climb 1345m. It’s a mixture of pitched path steps, scree and loose rocks from bottom to top, expect to be power for walking for at least a few sections on the way up.
“Footwear is very important. I see people making the mistake of wearing road shoes or racing flats in extreme races. They are not appropriate and could even be dangerous. Get some proper trail running shoes, they are lower to the ground and hence more stable plus have grippy soles to deal with the terrain. For this race I would also consider just lacing them up properly, rather than using elastic laces, they will grip the foot better and you will get less movement, your toes may thank you for that at the bottom of the hill.
“Find a rhythm at a comfortable pace, it’s a long climb that this will be vital as the further you get the more tired you will become. Set too high a pace too early and you will blow.
“Poles could be very useful for the up but ideally you need to have used them in training or at least practiced a few times with them.
“The downhill section will need pacing as well as the uphill! I always take a few seconds at the top of the hill to relax, reset, take in the view, thank the marshals and take a few deep breaths. I find this helps me to relax and maintain focus. You can do this at any point during the descent if you need to. Try to relax and again find a rhythm, stay focussed and alert. It will begin to hurt so be prepared for this, dig in, remember why you signed, the finish line is not to far. If wet the pitched steps are very slippery so take it extra careful on them.
“Most importantly, remember this is the icing on the cake after months of hard work training and preparing. Enjoy the day, fresh mountain air and remember how lucky you are to be there enjoying this moment. I find that reminding myself of this during the race helps so much, most importantly when it gets hard.
“I’m happy to answer questions people may have through my Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/chrisstirlingracing/ just drop me a message, always love to talk extreme triathlon and mountains!”