Double trouble: The longest day and the longest race report

Rob Morgan’s amazing account of his double distance ironman challenge last weekend. 

4.8 mile swim – 231.9 mile cycle – 51.4 mile run

After spending Friday night shivering, coughing and sneezing my way through a fever I didn’t exactly feel great when the alarm went off at 5:30am. Luckily the gale force winds during the day meant that the event marquee couldn’t be set up in time and therefore the start was going to be delayed an hour until 8am. I washed a peanut butter and jam bagel down with a Max Strength Lemsip followed by an even stronger cup of coffee and got myself ready for the long day(s) ahead.

Swim: 4.8 miles over 8 laps

Dressed in wetsuit, booties, gloves, and thermal cap I made my way to the edge of Lake Padarn and waited to be counted in by the marshal. About 215 of us gradually entered the water and a few minutes later we were off.

The first 2 laps flew by – everyone was doing at least 2 laps so there were plenty of feet to follow. The next 2 laps were a little slower but a there was still a good number of people in the water. I’d made it halfway and I was feeling good. The numbers were now thinning out in the water as those doing the half or full distance left and soon it was only the people attempting the double that remained. With each stroke I was swimming further than I’d swum before. The 7th lap took forever, so much so that when I got to the end of it I wasn’t sure if I was actually on lap 8. I shouted to a marshal to see how long I‘d been swimming for – the reply of 2hr 55 minutes unfortunately told me that I still had one more lap to do. I pushed on and eventually stepped out of the water and across the mat in an exhausted 3 hours, 18 minutes.

Bike: 231.9 miles over 8 laps, Total ascent – 19,868 ft

I changed out of my wetsuit and geared up ready for the cycle stage. A quick energy gel and a drink of hot tea and I was ready to go. The course was a scenic 29 mile loop around Snowdon, each finishing with a steep 7 mile climb up to Pen-y-Pass and a long descent into Llanberis. Early in the lap were 3 hills in a row (I affectionately named them “The 3 Bast**ds”) which seemed to sap any energy you had.

My support crew (older Brother Ian, younger brother Gareth and best mate Mike) were stuck behind the flow of bikes and cars during the first 2 laps. This meant I could only refuel at the top of Pen-y-Pass and was completing most of the lap with nothing to eat or drink. I was feeling weakened by whatever bug I was fighting but I seemed able to keep going so I steadily pushed on.

The end of lap 4 came after almost 9 hours of riding and was completed with a 41mph descent of the Llanberis pass, wearing sunglasses … in the dark. I was rewarded for reaching the halfway point with a chicken curry!

I had started feeling cold and the odd shivers and muscle spasms going through my body were getting more and more regular – I was worried that it was only a matter of time before I would feel too ill to continue.

Halfway through lap 5 the shivering had got worse and even though I had my full winter cycling kit on I just couldn’t keep warm. I started thinking about pulling out of the race and decided I needed to stop and have a few minutes to get my head back on track. I jumped into the support car in a lay-by and set the alarm clock for 30 minutes later. I had a good talking to myself and even managed to sleep for 20 minutes. I set off into the night feeling weak but more alert from having some sleep and determined to just keep going and finish the lap. The next few laps followed the same pattern – cycle half the loop, jump in the car, sort my head out and then get back on the bike. Halfway through lap 7 the fever was back in full force again. I sat in the car with the heated seats and heaters on full and just shivered for an hour. I had been trying to eat but was feeling sick and my whole body was in knots. We left it as long as possible before Mike finally kicked me out. I swapped onto my road bike and rode off, shaking so much that I almost crashed! There was just over 2½ hours left before the cut-off for the cycle and I still had one full lap to do. Eventually, the fever subsided and Gareth joined me on a bike for the end of the last lap to give me encouragement. We pushed on up the climb to Pen-y-Pass for the last time. We were nearly at the top but I was a broken man. I slumped onto floor and rested for a few minutes, desperately trying to talk myself into continuing. We had 25 minutes to get back to transition and if I gave it everything I had then it would be possible to make it.

I raced down the Llanberis pass for the last time and made it to transition with just 5 minutes to spare in 22 hours, 7 minutes. I was a wreck.

Snowdon: 9.5 miles, Total ascent 3,049 ft

I had a few cups of sugary tea and tried to eat some noodles but I still felt sick, luckily I managed to force down some Jaffa cakes. Mike spoke to one of the organisers and explained about me having a fever throughout the night but that it seemed to have passed and that I wished to continue. She advised that I try and complete Snowdon section with the 3 support crew but that she would need to assess my situation when we got back. We all changed into our mountain gear and went off in search of the medic for a mandatory health/sanity check (he needed to make sure I was fit enough to carry on). With Mike and Gareth propping me up I went through my kit list with the medic and miraculously he allowed me to continue!

We started the long, steep ascent up Snowdon and it soon became apparent that I wasn’t in a good way at all. I could only manage a few hundred feet before needing to stop and rest. I was both mentally and physically drained – It had taken every last bit of energy to make the cycle cut-off time and now I had nothing left. After 3 miles of climbing I looked down at Lake Padarn in the distance (now 3 miles away) it still looked massive. I knew that after the Snowdon section, I would need to run around the lake 8 times. It was impossible – I couldn’t even walk ½ a mile let alone run over 40 of them. I was so desperate to sleep that I just wanted to curl up on the side of the path and doze. I was at rock bottom and it was time to face reality and pull the plug. I had a long and tearful chat with the guys and told them that I couldn’t see any point in carrying on and that even if I somehow made it up and down Snowdon, there wouldn’t be enough time for me to run the lake section.

They were having none of it. I can be stubborn, it’s part of what keeps me going through ultras – but the guys took it to another level. They simply wouldn’t let me stop. They were going to make me finish the Snowdon section. No arguments.

We plodded on and somehow reached the summit and a medic checked me off his list. We turned around and headed back down the mountain. I’ve been exhausted many times, craving sleep while running and supporting the Round Norfolk Relay for example, but not like this.

I collapsed. The guys helped me up to my feet but I collapsed again. I couldn’t even stand up anymore. There was nothing for it. With my arms around their shoulders, Mike and Ian were able to support most of my weight and we picked our way through the boulders and rocky steps – slowly down the mountain in a knackered looking 6 legged race!

After an hour and with the steepest section behind us, I finally felt some strength return to my legs and was able to walk again. I spent most of the following hour talking to Mike, he was asking me about the ultras I’ve run – asking about what keeps me going. I was giving the same reply as I always do, that it’s mostly in the head and that you just keep putting one foot in front of the other then, break the whole thing down into smaller goals and tackle each one in turn. “What, like running just one lap of the lake?” Mike asked. Blimey, he was still trying to convince me to keep going.

Snowdon had taken 4 hours, 52 minutes and by the time we approached transition we had a plan. I was in last place, I had no hope of finishing in time but I’d keep going until they withdrew me from the race. I would sleep for ½ an hour, have some food and then set out on a lap of the lake with Mike. I might not finish, but I wasn’t going to quit.

Lake Section: 41.9 miles over 8 laps, Total ascent 4,071 ft

We talked to some other competitors while we changed into our running gear (they were on their 3rd and 4th laps) and they were both surprised that the organisers were allowing me to continue onto the lake section so late in the day. I’d forgotten about being assessed following the Snowdon section. So I did what any honest person would do, I didn’t have my ½ hour sleep, I didn’t have a meal, instead we slipped quietly out of the tent and across the timing mat to start our first lap before anyone noticed.

It was 3:53pm, I’d been on the go for 32 hours with only 20 minutes sleep. There was 10 hours, 7 minutes to the cut-off. We would have just under 1 hour, 16 minutes for each lap including any stops for food & drink. It would be tight, but was there at last some hope of actually completing it on time?

The lake loop was a nice and flattish 2 mile track followed by 1½ miles of steep road which climbed high above the lake, it then twisted and turned through forest tracks before a downhill finish. It felt amazing!

The first couple of miles were done at a fast jog, I would then get a gel and drink from Ian and Gareth and eat/drink them while walking (quickly) up the long hill section, through the twisty bits it was all “run down, walk up” and then push hard to the end. We did the 1st lap in 1 hour, 3 minutes and after a quick cup of coffee (tea would take too long to brew!) and slice of cake we were ready to go off again. Total time including stopping: 1 hour, 11 minutes. Mike ran the second lap with me following the same strategy as before and we completed it in 1 hour, 8 minutes (including a coffee and slice of cake). For the 3rd lap, Mike would accompany me to Ian and Gareth then I would continue on my own for the rest of the lap. I was starting to feel a bit shivery again and definitely having to work harder than I should have been. Lap time 1 hour, 8 minutes. I asked Mike to run the whole of the 4th lap with me and as we reached the halfway point I started to really fade – we pushed on and agreed I needed a proper rest. We’d clawed back enough time for me to safely have a 15 minute stop.

I got the roll mat out and lay on the ground. I realised I was shivering so I grabbed the sleeping bag and wrapped myself up in it. I felt my temperature rise and before I knew it I was having a full on fever (again). We had just over 5 hours left to go and we still had half of the laps to do. I was so close to completing it and yet here I was – a shivering wreck, in a tent, with a temperature! Mike was very calm.

Time for another Max Strength Lemsip!

I drank it and curled up again for 10 minutes. My temperature lowered and I stopped shivering.

“Come on then” Mike said – “I’ll do another lap with you.”

We headed off into the darkness and before we knew it we were at the top of the climb looking down at the lake with just the forest section to go. We clambered down the tracks with Mike shouting that if I kept on going and didn’t stop for breaks that I could still do it. The next lap, Mike was tiring (he’d just run an unplanned marathon!) and he told me to keep going. The Lemsip was still working so I pushed on. Lap 7 flew by and on starting lap 8 I knew I’d done enough to finish in time.

I was actually going to do this.

I relaxed a little and tried to let it all soak in. The fast paced walk up the hill was instead an enjoyable stroll. On reaching the top, I took a moment to look down at the town and the lake and noticed the flicker of head torches below – I wasn’t last anymore! I carefully picked my way down through the forest tracks (it really wasn’t the time to twist an ankle!) and then into the field which led to the finish.

I couldn’t believe it, with tears in my eyes I sprinted across the timing mat … only to be told I’d crossed the wrong one and needed to double back and cross the other one instead.

I’d done it, and in 41 hours, 2 minutes and 4 seconds – with almost an hour to spare. I later found out that I was the 3rd fastest for the 41.9 miles of the lake run.

To say I couldn’t have done this without the support crew is a massive understatement – they literally carried me when I was at my lowest point and at no time gave me the option to quit. The Double Brutal was a massive head game and in this case, four heads were definitely better than one.

Thank you for all your messages of support throughout the race – Gareth was shouting them out to me when I was on the bike and during the run and it was fantastic to know that you were all encouraging me along the way.

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Rob (2nd from right) with his support crew

 

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