(29.5km run, 8km swim across 8 runs and 7 swims)
5:47:18 18th overall, 12th Male pair
It’s quite an adventure getting to the Scilly Isles. We’d not been able to get on the ferry from Penzance but chatting with people on our 15 minute flight from Lands End it was perhaps a lucky choice as the ferry is notorious for sea sickness on it’s 2:45 crossing due to a combination of it’s shallow draft for access to the Quay in Hugh Town and the rough water where various currents meet off Lands End. Before the briefing we chatted with a friend Matt who had sailed here. When asked how long it took him his reply of “3 days” produced a gasp of astonishment from all of us as it was an order of magnitude longer than we’d expected. They’d had headwinds the whole way which only exacerbate the fact that rather than a crew of four they had two due to one drop our and one with sea sickness. We were even more in awe when he explained they’d probably be leaving at 4am the day after the race as the wind was changing so they’d have a head wind back.
The 10 o’clock race start allowed for a full english breakfast the morning of the race. it was a glorious sunny day and was clearly going to be very hot running in a wetsuit. The first run was 2.8k from the start with a reasonable climb before descending. Andy and I discussed whether to have wetsuits up or down for this and agreed on putting up with getting hot as the water was cold and it would mean we were looking forward to getting in.
We placed ourselves towards the front of the start pen but agree we would run conservatively and aim not to run any faster than we could maintain across the whole course. The first part of the course has 3.2k of swimming with only 3.8k of running so we knew by the end of that section everything would be sorted out and we’d have almost certainly swum our way towards the front of the field.
48th through Timing 1 at 400m ! By the first swim we must have been further behind – Pat and Anna were 71st at this point but passed us before the first swim. As we entered the first swim Rachel shouted “in your own time” reflecting our position towards the back of the field. She estimated only 20-25 teams behind placing us ~75th at this point.
Now for the first long swim of the day. 2k. We’d decided to tow this time so I had big paddles on and didn’t have to worry looking back to make sure Andy was there. We quickly started passing lots of people. At the other side there was only a short run (~1km) mostly on soft sand before heading back in for a 1.2k swim across to Bryher. Both these long swims were quite tricky sighting with only small OtillO buoys. Much trickier than any triathlon which would never have that distance straight let alone those distances between marker buoys. Judging by the trace on Andys Suunto I swam pretty straight.
We passed Mel and Naomi as we approached the end of the 1.2k swim. I recognised them so swam across and close to them. They then re-passed us on Bryher. They were pushing hard. Naomi was towing Mel who could hardly talk and was clearly working hard. I don’t think I’d have finished if I’d been pushing that hard that early on. Andy and I continued our running at a steady “banter pace”. We also ran with the tow rope still attached and Andy giving me a pull. We had the length set to keep Andy in the draft for the swim which meant it was a bit short for the run and it wasn’t long before I decided to detach it.
We re-passed Mel and Naomi on the next swim back on to Tresco. This was about a 7k run section with a aid station a little under 2k in. We’d discussed the day before that we may want wetsuits down for this leg but for some reason didn’t immediately after the swim. We went through the aid station and through the Tresco Abbey Gardens before we really started to feel hot. Andy particularly so. He was over heating and we had to back off for the last couple of KMs to the next swim. Yet again Mel and Naomi passed just as we approached the end of the run. There followed a series of three swims split by short runs around Islands on the beaches. We re-passed them yet again on the middle swim which was another 1km swim ending with some quite tricky patches of seaweed. It was amazing stuff (I’m guessing it may have been kelp) coming up from the depths in magical forests that if you ended up swimming in got you snarled up and it was very hard work. We’d been warned in the briefing. As we approached the end of the middle swim I didn’t spot a patch of this and swam straight in to it. Got very caught up and had to swim sideways to get out. I worried that this would allow Mel and Naomi to come past again but when I looked back as we exited I could see they’d gone in to the same patch. Mel reported afterwards she’d had to stop to untangle herself. That was the last we saw of them during the race.
These swims had definitely helped our overheating. The next loop around St Martins was the longest run so we pulled our wetsuit down. 7.7km and we were running pretty well. This was the only time we passed a team on the run ! Even without towing our swimming was relatively so much faster than our running. Now with towing it was even more so, passing on the run was a (very) rare delight. This was a lovely run along a rugged coast. The last swim loomed – 2.5km straight. Not something you get to do very often. We were given a swim tow buoy for this crossing.
As I looked across for sighting lines I thought it looks no where near 2.5km. I could see two sighting buoys with the second looking close to the far shore. How deceptive it was. By that second buoy I realised I was no where near halfway. It was a lot further than it look. I’m guessing it was about 2.5km as described not about 1k as it looked. It went on and on. My arms were now really feeling the effort towing and using big hand paddles (Large TYR Catalyst II). The expected ground rush just wouldn’t arrive. Finally I started to see kayakers and marshals on shore. It was a little confusing as I was heading for the marker flag on the shore ignoring the final sighting buoy which seemed the long way to go. A kayaker came close and explained the buoy was marking a channel through the seaweed. I moved across to it. Once in the channel you could see why – there was seaweed pretty much everywhere other than two narrow channels we swam down.
At the exit Rachel was there giving us a cheer. Just a final 7.2k round the top of St Mary’s. One of the pleasures of these events is that after the initial sort out you spend a lot of time without any other runners around. This was the case for the final section – we could see we were in no mans land – not seeing anyone ahead or behind. It allowed is to really enjoy the final part of this fantastic race. The section finished with a little shimmy through the “jungle” and by the lifeboat station which meant the run ended with a nice few of the finish line.
What a great race. They said they’d hope this would become iconic. I think it will. Am absolutely awesome race which we fully intend to return to next year.
For those that are interested I’ve put our splits below together with what the route card said the distances were and what Andys’ Suunto recorded the distances as. The swims are almost certainly going to be longer than the route since the route is a dead straight line. Also there were a few times where I felt there was a current since ever time I sighted it felt like I had to keep veering slightly in the same direction