In June I was the newly proud owner of a piece of slate emblazoned with ‘First Female’, yet only two months prior, I could barely move from the sofa, and had just enjoyed my first ever triathlon DNF… Here’s how I bounced back from the dreaded F-Word (fatigue) to win my first Ultra Duathlon in the rolling hills of Snowdonia National Park.
Race Stats for the Brutal Little Pig Duathlon
- 6 mile mountain run
- 56 mile bike
- 10 mile off-road run
- Starters – 72
- Finishers – 69
April-May 2016: When Life Went *Thwack*
Let’s briefly rewind to April 2016. I’m lying on my sofa, staring mournfully at the kettle in my li’l Bristol flat, wondering if the thing could learn to boil itself and make me a nice cuppa, maybe even bring me a Jammie Dodger, thanks. For I had been blighted by fatigue after running Paris Marathon then cycling home, and then returning to a whole bunch of work stress. So I made some important changes in my life, dietary and professionally, and then I won my first Brutal Event.
I failed royally in my first spring triathlon which meant my novice brother-in-law beat me. Whaaaaaat! If that wasn’t bad enough I then ditched the two qualifier races in an effort to regain enough upright energy to make a sodding cup of tea. Yes, this thing we call life had suddenly thwacked me in the face, in full-on cartoon comedy style.
I was thus ‘Janine Doggett DNF and DNS’ for the Spring of 2016, or as I like to call it, Janine Doggett Margarita Drinking Queen.
But there was a race coming up that I did not want to miss!
After investigating the Little Pig Ultra Duathlon Brutal Event, I’d decided that I really, really wanted to summit my second ever mountain in Snowdonia National Park, and what better way to do it than in what is essentially a half Iron distance race, right? 2016 was my year to face my heights fear, so to combine the challenge with my favourite sport seemed like an opportunity too good to miss.
The only way to make it to the start line, and dig my way out of the fatigue, I’d decided, was to become strictly super-healthy. I became the organic egg eater extraordinaire – two every morning with Pukka organic green tea. I ate organic steak for breakfast once a week after being vegetarian (again) for four months. And I started knocking back B-vits and all-manner of green stuff.
Health and energy would arrive again from lots of rest but most importantly, from the removal of any stress in my life that wasn’t making me healthy. So I went freelance and switched ‘training’ runs and rides with just having fun with mates. On the whole I did a little less than I felt like, and mostly, didn’t go out when my head said yes but my body said no.
For the first time in a long time I even had a little paunch saying ‘oh, hi!’ everytime I put on my jeans, but I didn’t really care.
The Little Pig Ultra Duathlon
I drove up to Snowdonia National Park and set up camp at transition at the foot of Cadar Idris, a magical way to wake up to the event, knowing that I’d be running up it come the morning!
The race itself, entitled the ‘Little Pig’ Duathlon is a little serving of pain on toast. (The big serving is ‘The Pig’ – double the distance.) And I mean pain on toast in the loveliest sense you’ll understand. Because, when you’re surrounded by beautiful Snowdonia backdrops, there’s a good few thousand feet of arse-burning rainy ascents and soggy Jaffa Cakes that can be forgiven.
I approached The Pig Duathlon with with no intention to race the thing, saying to myself and others that I was planning to have a ‘day out’. Of course, that all went to pot thanks to the competitor in me. Six hours and 57 minutes later I was being handed the finest piece of Welsh slate slate saying ‘First Lady’ much to my shock and utmost delight and disbelief. I felt like a fraud as I ran past the actual first lady in the last mile (that’s got to be annoying after a 7 hour race, she was very friendly about it!).
They’re called Brutal Events for a reason
It was really quite gruelling in parts. Not just the terrain and weather, but the endless solo miles, totally isolated from anything but bovine and badly-sheared sheepy life.
As beautiful as Snowdonia National Park is, it aint flat. And as beautiful as Wales is, it usually rains. Couple that with a 6-mile mountain run at 7am, followed by a 55-mile bike climbing nearly 5000ft, polished off with a 10-mile hilly off road run, and friends, you have yourself an aptly entitled brutal race.
Take me (and my glutes) to the Clouds Above
Burning glutes in the clouds at 7am is something we simply don’t get enough of in this life IMHO. As I jogged, ok walked, up Cadar Idris, one of the Welsh Three Peaks, I occasionally lifted my head from the task at hand of not twisting my ankle, to see a line of teeny-tiny-looking people behind me, and up ahead, a variety of day-glo kit ascending into the clouds. This is quite some magical way to start the day, and so, although hard – it was just really bloody lovely.
On the long bike section, I passed the time by playing the ‘guess the mile on the bleep’ game (Yes, I really know how to have fun!) and by eating something every thirty minutes as usual. The bike section was by far the toughest part both physically and mentally. As usual for racing, I left my phone behind. This made me feel vulnerable because I didn’t see anybody else for miles and miles, through driving rain on the deserted sections of the welsh coast. And whilst physically I felt strong, I was cold and wet through.
Then came the race anxiety, ah – my old friend
There’s this thing, somewhere in the ape section of my brain, that decides to seek out the most hilarious worse-case scenario ideas at the most inopportune moments. Truth be told, I wasn’t surprised when it did happen, given the circumstances. But it had been a long time since I’d experienced it, because the very act of racing tough races has made me more resilient.
I was a little nervous about this race because I knew there would be very long solo sections. And as I got wetter and colder, between mile 15 and 25, ‘race worry’ arrived in the form of really quite convincing thoughts such as ‘I touched a fern on the mountain and my wrists are swelling’ (this happened once) ‘I’ve breathed in some foxglove pollen and my throat is going to close soon’ (this never happened) ‘I am likely to suddenly develop an allergic reaction to the peanut in this Aldi bar I’ve just eaten’ (lol) and my personal favourite, ‘I am going to have a heart attack and die at any given moment’.
I’m wise to the primitive brain now, so I was gently amused rather than panicked by these thoughts – but it took all I’ve learned to swat them away and focus on having fun. Nevertheless, I was surprised to find that I felt gripped by panic all of a sudden, out of nowhere. My breathing had started to quicken and I had a ‘shall I cry now?’ moment. Well really, I wasn’t having any of that nonsense. Just as I was about to start hyperventilating, I started singing. My best friend Sarah and I have harmonised to Ben Folds songs together since 1997, so it’s one of my happy places, and thus, the entire eponymously entitled first album was reprised on Sunday morning, somewhere on the welsh coast, really quite badly, heard only by the occasional sheep, glancing up for a moment mid-munch to see what all the fuss was about on this otherwise peaceful rainy morning.
Occasionally I paused my singing to say “good morning!” to one of these sheep, or a horse, and on one occasion, to shout an unrepeatable expletive at the car that covered me in a gigantic puddle just to check I was properly wet through. But by and large, these were beautifully gruelling sodden miles of uninterrupted X-Factor rejection fodder. The race was on.
Ben Folds got me to the mile-27 aid-station, and after that, well before mile 55, it was lunchtime on the bike. I munched away on the peanut butter and marmite on white bonk-prevention from my rear pocket, and warmed up by peddling harder and faster still.
The final run
By the time I had pulled on my new bezzies that are the Inov-8 212’s (Azelia’s) in transition for the second time that day, I was wet-through and my legs hurt – a lot. I spent a good seven-or-so minutes in transition, including lying prone on the grass, wailing ‘do I have to!’ like an eight-year-old complaining about tidying her room, to which one of the marshals correctly replied, ‘yes.’
‘I spent 7 minutes in transition, some of them prone and wailing.’
In a stroke of luck, the rain cleared, and so too did my leg fatigue. I had a merry wee in a bush, barely bothering to conceal myself since again, there was not a soul around except a non-pervy sheep (I assumed) and after my first wee in five hours I toddled off towards those there hills with the day-glo way markers, celebrating my nature wee with my first shot blok of the day.
Curiously, by mile eight, I felt as fresh as a daisy, jumping rocks here, splashing through streams there, chirping everywhere ‘I feel just chipper!’
I met the guy camping next to me early on the run and our chats cheered me up no end. Without him, there is some likelihood that I would have ended up lost and lying in a puddle, wailing ‘why!’ again, with bits of shot blok stuck to my face.
I passed the second girl at mile eight-ish, her name was Emily and she looked absolutely awesome. She was wearing the pink Zoot kit that I had wanted but it was sold out. I think I reminded her of this fact everytime I saw her that day. Despite this probable irritation, she kindly later said I looked like a cheerful gazelle dancing past her! I felt guilty passing her because she’d had a puncture in the race, but that’s how races go, and to be fair, I had wasted valuable minutes in transition smearing vaseline all over the place in a Jaffa Cake stupor.
“Oh my god, that’s a woman,” I muttered.’
Passing shiny, awesome looking No.2 Lady Emily, I assumed that the first lady was way off ahead. Imagine my shock then, to see a shape ahead of me looking curiously like a woman within the final mile. ‘Oh my god… that’s a woman.’ I muttered to myself.
Oh crap, I’m going to have to try now.
I was into the final stretch now, dark woodland. Suddenly I was the fittest man in film (aside from Ewan McGregor), starring in The Beach, in the jungle bit (I’m getting there), running, nay panting my way through the trees, hearing the cracks up ahead – I knew that she wasn’t far off.
I passed the first lady in those there woods, and then promptly tripped over a root and royally flew down to collect some cuts and bruises. I was mouthing ‘WTF!’ to myself and smiling, I was really quite amused by this turn of events, panting still.
And so, with under a mile to go, and now, somehow being in first place, I knew I owed it to myself to really give this thing a go, so I sucked it up and panted hard to the finish. I’ve won a race before, but only on a waved start. This was the first race I’d ever won knowing I was first woman, and honestly, it was an incredible experience and one that I will remember with pride and joy. I was this close to performing a Blazeman roll.
As I ran through the arch, I was absolutely elated, not only to have won a piece of slate with First Lady written on it, but also to have done so after my massive spring energy bonk.
As I munched on cake, and sucked up the hot tea, and clapped the other women in so very close behind me, I felt that this was a moment that I could be proud of. It was a very special feeling, and a wonderful end to a day of low-lows and highs.
The success was yet another reason to believe that being undertrained by 10% is better than being overtrained by 1%. I am taking my recovery seriously and eating well, for example diligently finishing the remaining Jaffa Cakes in my suitcase, eating peanut butter out of the jar with a spoon and drinking Pinot Noir.
I’m really quite proud to have saved my tears on Sunday for the finish line. It was gruelling, incredible, inspiring, and I can’t wait for the next Brutal Event. Claire Smith, as sadistic as you are, you are a creative genius.