Not every triathlon is a race, not every triathlon allows for PBs; sometimes a very special challenge can leave behind ripples with those who take part. Caderman, set in the stunning Snowdonia National Park, Wales, is one of those special challenges. How I feel about it now is so different to how I did before competing and I’d like to share how it all changed.
It all started a year ago
My wife, Kate, saw an advert for the Caderman Triathlon and with a “you should do that” I clicked the link. 600m sea swim, yep can do that; 36km bike, can do that too although sounds hilly; 5km run to summit Cadair Idris…. wow, I'm out!
However, it didn’t escape my mind; something about it all drew me in. Luckily, to save face, it clashed with a pre-booked holiday. Fast forward to earlier this year, I was making the crucial selection of which events I was aiming for and Caderman was there. I didn’t hesitate, I just booked it.
Having competed in triathlons for a few years I have always felt it was unjustified to use it as a charity fund-raising reason. Caderman once again is different - this is obviously a challenge not a race, and one that I would say "not normal people" find enticing. This was my introduction to Bloodwise, a blood cancer charity, and the work they do. I am not affected by blood cancer directly in any way but seeing the responsibilities Bloodwise take on I was committed to the cause.
So, as the season progressed, race day of the 4th August came ever closer. I should have been tailoring my training to be at my strongest with 5 weeks to go to race day, but things don't always work out. Performing a cartwheel over a speed bump on a bike took training down to zero. The month before the challenge became recovery, rest, ice and worrying that the commitment couldn't be followed through. I had visions of being removed from the mountain by helicopter, sucking up emergency service resources because of my persistence to go ahead against common sense!
Two weeks before the race, I managed to swim, run and cycle with post-workout swelling but not much more; "I'm going to do it" I announced, but first, more rest. I hadn't gone into a triathlon so physically unprepared before; I turned hopes of a sub 3 hour time to hopes of completion.
I was travelling with my supportive family-and-friends entourage; as we neared Dolgellau the mountain peaks were hidden in cloud. The event registration was not anywhere near the start or finish, as odd as this may seem it provided a well-organised, relaxed location; great facilities to get ready for the day.
All athletes had their bikes transported to T1 and racked whilst we were moved by coach and subjected to one of the most cheery and comical race briefings I've heard by Geraint (more about him later on).
With the coach navigating the narrow country hill road that I would be tackling by bike in less than an hour's time, it gave me a chance to visualise most of the course, checking signage on the way. The sun had pushed its way through, burning off the cloud and fog; standing at T1 in the seaside town of Tywyn at 9am I was boiling, trying to leave donning the wetsuit until the last minute.
With an additional pre-swim safety briefing and obligatory honours list photo, the flag was dropped and we were free to enter the sea in whatever fashion we felt worked; for me it was to swim from knee-deep water whilst others waded further. Ten minutes and a few loops later in the tropical waters of the Welsh coast and it was time to leave. I noted how everyone I saw were not interested in cutting corners to shore, you'd only be cheating yourself, and made sure they touched the buoy signifying the end of last loop before heading out.
Running to the car park where T1 was based, I had the top of my wetsuit off - something that has taken a lot of practise - before I reached my bike. It was at this point I marvelled that I managed to remove the wetsuit from my legs with speed and ease, which I owe to a top tip from a friend: plastering legs in hair conditioner is not only safe for the suit but very slippery! Helmet and race belt on and I was out on the bike. With numbers kept low for the event I was in a rare situation; there were no other riders to follow, I had to lead, not something I’m accustomed to.
600m swim time: 0:15:07
It didn’t take long as I left Tywyn to sense things weren’t quite right with the bike. The rear brake caliper was bound to the rim, this took some care with a reach to take the caliper lock off. Then there was the tinging… all I could think was I had a loose spoke but it was like this first thing? I had to put it to the back of my mind mind and plough on.
Now, I knew my gear setup was not ideal for climbing but I’ve been using it for over a year; with 25 teeth on the largest cog of the cassette, the climbs were tough, coupling that with my loss in fitness recently I couldn’t even keep up with friends to draft them. Yes you read that right, there are no draft-busters as this is not an ITU race, it’s a challenge and fun.
I thought the pain was nearly ending (or about to transfer to the run) when I entered Dolgellau, but there was one last cheeky climb that didn’t relent until T2.
Transition is set next to the Pony Trail in Snowdonia National Park. Not only was it well laid out but offered lots of fuelling options, from bananas and chocolate to Wild Trail energy bars and gels. One banana and one gel and some water later, I set out on the element that makes this event more than a race.
36km bike time: 1:42:34
I bounded across the road eager to jog up what I could; I rounded a corner, crossed a small footbridge, and made it up the first incline before stopping. This was not going to work; back pain from my 'super aero profile' on the bike was setting in. Revising my plans, I settled for a fast walk and regular rests to keep my heart rate low. The focus now was catching up with friends who were up to 10 minutes ahead and seeing my wife and kids who were camped out halfway.
As I pushed on, I couldn't stop taking in the views at every stop; it wasn't long before I spotted my family, but the first half of Cadair Idris is the steepest and hardest with large boulders to navigate. Every footstep takes mentally exhausting thought to select and physically demanding response by the body to place.
As I rounded the corner, my kids shouted their support. This was a big boost and a chance to rest I thought... Alex and Cari had other ideas, "Keep going Dad, get a fast time". A few jelly babies and water later I was sent packing. From then on, at every stop up the steep zig zag path, my wife and kids would be shouting support; they were not the only ones; bemused hikers going up and down gave words of encouragement along the route. For such a remote location, it was one of the best run legs of a triathlon I've had for on-route support!
With the heat of the sun and the leg-punishing ascent to the halfway point, I was glad of the marshal support. With water supplies and more snacks available, I took a little of both before finding the energy to jog once more. Having passed my family it was time to reel in my friends before the summit. They were in sight and so I grafted with jogging, fast walking and minimal stops to close the now 5-minute divide.
This section of Cadair in many way is easier due to the path being made of smaller stones rather than boulders. Finally catching up with friends, I had no interest in continuing the pace I was setting. We settled to a shared rate of climbing, looking to summit together, mirroring the start we shared together 3 hours earlier. As we made the final climb up a narrow path that was taking a constant flow of descending hikers who moved aside, there were shouts of “who’s going to get there first?”
5km run time: 1:19:34
There was no question, on a count of 3 we placed our hands on the summit trig point at the same time. Pride, achievement, and dizziness sank in as pain floated away. There were no more competitors in sight, making it feel as though the achievement was most definitely our own. With a rest at the summit hut, coats on and photos, we took in the view of the sea and cliff drops meters away. The thought of getting up here under your own steam cannot be taken away.
Diolch guys! Making the way down steadily to avoid last minute slips, I met my family and made for T2 to collect the bike before heading to the registration location from this morning for a well-earned pint.
Geraint was there, holding the fort. It was then I learned of the special link Caderman has with Bloodwise. Caderman is his creation and he did it alone years after recovery from leukaemia during his teens. This became an annual event and opened to others in 2017. Sometimes we need challenges to prove to ourselves we can go beyond limits. Geraint did this, and this year so did I along with 31 other competitors. This event is special and should most definitely be on the cards for 2019.