I always plan to write my race re-cap immediately after finishing, while it’s all still fresh in my mind. However, with the Brutal Extreme Triathlon, it’s taken a few weeks to process everything and let it sink in.
To give a bit of background about the Brutal Extreme, it’s named as one of the toughest triathlons in the world. What makes it so ‘brutal’ and ‘extreme’ is the terrain of Snowdon, North Wales where the race is set. There’s a cold water swim, plenty of challenging hills on the bike and run, then it finishes with an ascent and descent of Snowdon
There are several distances on offer: half ironman, full ironman, double ironman and triple ironman. In addition, they also have a half distance and full distance duathlon taking place on the same day. Obviously, I opted for the half iron triathlon, but two of my friends went for the double!
This was my A-race for the year and I’ve been training towards it since January. I felt completely ready for race day, although nervous.
1 mile swim- 31:50
On race morning, the weather was typical for North Wales- rain and strong winds. In fact, the start was delayed by an hour to 8am, and then again to 9am as the race organisers waited for the winds to drop. The swim course was also shortened by approximately 150m per lap because the wind was moving the buoy further out and we didn’t need to swim any extra distance.
Waiting on the start line, I honestly thought the race would be cancelled. The rain was lashing down, I couldn’t see to the first buoy and my goggles were filling up with water before we had even got in the lake. It just seemed ridiculous to try and swim in these conditions. Just as I was questioning my life choices, the 10-second countdown started- it looks like the Brutal was on!
Once we got going, my plan was just to follow the pack and hope they were heading in the right direction. I usually have cold hands, feet and face during an open water swim, but this was the only time I’ve actually felt cold to my core and shivered whilst swimming. The water temperature was said to be 16 degrees, but it definitely felt colder.
The swim actually flew past quickly. I felt as though I was swimming well and staying on course despite the poor visibility. I tried to figure out if it was still raining but it’s difficult when you are in water!
Finishing my two laps, I climbed out onto the muddy bank and headed towards transition. I could hear my friends shouting my name, but I’m always so disorientated after swimming that I couldn’t tell where they were.
Transition 1- 6:34
The transition is in a large marquee at the Brutal Extreme Triathlon- it’s a free-for-all so you just find a space for your kit and hope it doesn’t get kicked around. I left everything in my bag, but put it in the order that I’d need it. Those doing the Double and Triple distances have a ton of kit, plus they will potentially sleep in the marquee, so it’s about staking out a space for yourself.
I decided to put on a cycling jacket over my trisuit to keep warm and carry my phone. I wouldn’t normally carry my phone in a triathlon, but this isn’t a normal triathlon!
My friend Laura was out of the swim just before me and doing a complete kit change in transition, so I wished her good luck and went to grab my bike from the racks.
58 mile bike- 4:03:18
Heading out onto the bike course, I saw my Mum, Dad and Uncle who had just arrived. I really appreciated my family travelling to Wales to watch me put myself through this crazy event!
I’ve trained on the Brutal course three times over the past 18 months, so I have the advantage of being very familiar with the route. I knew that the worst hills start at mile 4, when you turn left at Llanrug, climb up and then descend into a village called Waunfawr. We nicknamed this section ‘Wanky Waunfawr’ as the steep gradient really does make you swear! It felt like a real victory completing this section as I knew the toughest part was over… until the second lap!
The bike course really reminded me of how much I love Snowdonia and why I chose this race. The scenery is stunning with rocky mountains, clear blue lakes and thick forests lining the route.
There is an aid station at mile 14, but as it’s on a descent, I didn’t want to lose momentum by stopping. I used the same fueling strategy as at The Lakesman– a ShotBlok and piece of Nakd Bar every 20 minutes. My Nakd Bars had turned to mush from getting wet, so every time I reached into my top tube bag, I pulled out a handful of brown sludge, which I then had to wipe on the side of my shorts- I never said triathlon was glamorous!
The weather is so changeable around the mountain. On one side, it was warm with bright sunshine and I was sweating in my jacket, thinking I’d ditch it after the first lap. However, once I reached Pen-y-Pass, the wind picked up again and I was freezing cold, so decided to keep my jacket on.
The other major climb starts at Nant Gwynant and goes right up to Pen-y-Pass. It’s not steep but it is long, covering a distance of 4 miles. I actually really enjoy this section- the views over the valley make all the climbing worthwhile. My back started really aching on this climb on my first lap and got worse throughout the ride.
The part of the course which actually terrifies me is the downhill from Pen-y-Pass to Nant Peris. It’s a very fast descent on sweeping roads, with cars and buses and a few potholes in the road. I was worried about sheep walking out in the road and having to swerve to avoid them. Luckily it was clear on race day!
The two-lap course meant that I got to see my supporters back at the race HQ, which always gives me a boost. I aimed to keep both my laps under two hours- my first was 1:56 but my back was hurting so much I slowed down to 2:06 on my second. I do quite a lot of core work already, but I guess I need to do a bit more.
Transition 2- 5:20
My back was so sore, I was glad to be done with the bike. I stretched out in transition as I fumbled about trying to figure out what I needed. My friend Brett was there helping me and updating me on how the others were doing.
5.2 mile lake lap run- 1:02:07
7 mile Snowdon run- 2:00:39
The Brutal Extreme Triathlon run course is in two parts, first a lap around the lake (Llyn Padarn) and then an ascent and descent of Snowdon.
The lake lap is definitely my favourite part of the whole event, as it’s so varied and challenging. The first part is very flat on a tarmac path, but then you reach the top of the lake and the terrain changes to trails with a lot of climbing. The route goes through a forest, past a waterfall and over a slate bridge, it feels very peaceful and there are beautiful viewpoints across the lake. You also pass by the former quarry hospital and mortuary, but hopefully, I wouldn’t be needing that!
I don’t have any photos from race day unfortunately, but here’s one from training last July to give an idea of the course.
With the lake lap complete, its time to head up Snowdon. You have to check in with a medic to confirm you are OK and have all the necessary kit to proceed up the mountain. Competitors have to carry a bag with kit including nutrition, compass, whistle, map, blister kit, foil blanket, waterproof trousers and jacket. My trail running bag, soft flasks, waterproof trail trousers and compass were all kindly gifted by Decathlon. Fortunately, I didn’t need any of the waterproof kit, as the sun had actually come out!
The mountain route had been cut short- we would only be going three-quarters of the way up the mountain because of high-winds at the summit. I wasn’t too disappointed about this, as we at least got to do the majority of the route, unlike previous years when Snowdon was completely closed.
My plan was to walk uphill then run back downhill. It seemed like most other competitors were doing the same, as it’s actually so tough to run up a mountain! Being an out-and-back along the Llanberis Path meant I got to see Glen as he was descending back to the finish line. He was looking strong!
The path was very crowded with walkers, so it was a case of weaving around people and keeping the momentum. The path has loose rock, so it gets very slippery especially when running downhill- luckily I managed to stay upright. There was also a lot of dog poo, so avoiding that added to the challenge!
The path gets steeper and rougher underfoot towards the top, my back was still aching and I stopped for a few seconds to stretch. Other competitors on their way down told me “you’re almost there, just 5 more minutes to the checkpoint”. I kept on pushing until I saw the medics at the turn-around point- I was so relieved as it meant it was all downhill from here.
I knew that the Snowdon section would be quite emotional for me. When we were training here at Easter, I had just finished running down from the summit when I had a text message telling me my friend had passed away after a 3-year battle with cancer. I thought about Sereena a lot during the race and felt grateful that I am fit and healthy enough to do triathlon.
I always try to finish a race with a sprint finish and this was no different despite the fact I’d just been up and down a mountain! When the finish line was in sight, I began picking up speed and saw another woman ahead of me, so I shot past her! I didn’t know if she was in the triathlon or the duathlon, but I just wanted to cross the finish line before her!
My timing chip removed and medal collected, I made my way over to my family and friends who were all laughing about my sprint finish. I had no idea of what position I’d finished in so when my friend and Personal Trainer Emma told me I was 5th female, I burst into tears. It was totally unexpected as I’d just aimed to complete the race to the best of my ability. My mind was blown that I had come 5th in one of the world’s toughest triathlons- I asked Emma to double-check the results again!
My race was over, but for those doing the Full, Double and Triple they had many more hours (and days) ahead of them. We stayed around the finish line to watch our friends finish the Double- Jon in 29:08:36 and 2nd place, and Matt in 41:30:14 and 15th place! Crazy!
I’ve lots of people to thank for helping me achieve this result:
- Jon at 4Performance for the coaching and for letting me know about this race in the first place!
- All the coaches and my clubmates at Havering Tri for the training sessions, support and tracking us throughout the race.
- My husband Glen for signing up to do this race with me, supporting my training and waxing my bike chain!
- Emma for Personal Training, helping me get strong and coming to support.
- Matt at Romford Sports Massage for sorting out my tight muscles.
- Chantel for braiding my hair!
- My Mum, Dad, Uncle Colin, Lisa, Brett, Olivia, Spencer for coming to support and standing out in the rain.
- Decathlon for providing my kit for training and racing this event.