Rudy Martinez, from EVO Triathlon Club, Windsor.

HARDEST 70.3 in the world… I have no clue if this statement is true, and to be fair, I don’t really care! I was promised an experience, and I got it. Here is my recollection of Tri X Half 2019, the most amazing race I’ve done, and definitely, the hardest, steepest, longest…
(if you wonder : that’s 1.9km swim, 90km ride and 21km run. But to make it harder, they’ve added 3000m elevation on the bike, with 6 passes at more than 25%, and 1000m elevation on the run… Otherwise it wouldn' be fun...)

The morning before the race, when I arrive in the lake district, I’m in awe for the landscape, the nature here is outstanding, and definitely lives up to its reputation. In the afternoon, after a little ride to spin the legs and get to understand what I’m up to (thanks Kevin Wallace for coming with me), I head towards registration to get my compulsory equipment checked and approved (the list only is scary – the organisers state : “Do not underestimate the severity of this race!”, humm, OK…), I get given bib #198. The race organiser, Mark Blackburn, tells us that out of the 250ish registrants, he is only expecting 170 to turn-up. At this moment, the sun is shining, and it’s a nice 20 degrees by lake Windermere…

Race day
The race starts at 8.00 and by 7.00, when I step out the door of the B&B, rain is literally pouring down, I feel like turning back, but my EVO team mates are already getting their gear ready, so I guess I might just have to get on with it.

In Transition, the rain has calmed down and the atmosphere is a little more cheerful. There is actually no stress, which is strange for me. I hang my T1 and T2 bin bags to the bike racks (which will prove a good idea later in the day). At race briefing, the organisers tell us that there are no plans to change the course despite the horrid conditions. I estimate that about 150 weirdos are lining up beside me, ready to get in the water.

Swim Start
8.00 swim start, I take it rather easy and get in my swim comfortably, the water is not too cold, which allows me to focus on my technic and not waste much energy before what lies ahead. I draft behind a few guys, efficiency will be the key today, and I come out the water very happy with my swim for the first time ever in a triathlon. No arm pain, no back pain, no gasping for air, and an average speed of 1.45/100m while taking it easy… Oh, and the rain has stopped, happy days!

T1
Back in Transition, guess who’s back!? Yes, it’s raining again, it’s gonna be a long day. I put on some warm clothes and hop on my bike… I forgot my glasses! what an idiot…

Bike – The struggle…
After a very short 2km warm-up on the flat, it’s already time for the first climb of the day, the name? “The struggle”, a 5km climb…
The first portion is steep! So much that my front wheel comes off the slippery wet tarmac when I don’t lean forward, the appetizer…
After a few hundred meters, the climb is a little flatter at somewhere around 15%, with some bits at 20%. It’s hard, it’s long, and the rain keeps coming down. 25 minutes in the climb, the hardest bit is ahead of me, a succession of switchbacks all above 20%. I reach the top and I’m greeted by Rachael and Collette, they are braving the rain to cheer us on, and Rachael hands me my plastic bag with a bottle and my food supply. A bit of timing wasting while I make up my mind about what to wear. Jacket on, off, back on, off, in my pocket, doesn’t fit, sod it, back on, it’s too cold anyway…
The rain has intensified, I’m shivering, but it’s now time to get down the rest of the first loop leading back to Ambleside. In the descent, my rim brakes are basically useless, I spend the next 10km clenching the levers while shitting my pants. Some hot heads with disk brakes fly past me, frustrating… But I don’t really feel like dying, I’ll get them on the flat, or maybe I won’t, who cares, at this stage, the only focus is to get through the next 6-7 hours…

The bike course now flattens and passes back in front of transition. I shake off my doubts and I take a left towards the next difficulties of the day. For 10km, I prep my nutrition, take time to drink, chat with some guy who’s done the race before (but didn’t finish), rest my legs for what lies ahead.

The next climb soon arrives, it’s called “Wall-end” and it’s the shortest and “easiest” climb of the day. Some of the switchbacks still force me out of the saddle and I’m dropping some guys who are starting to struggle already, if the day is going to be long for me, at least these guys will have their share too, hahaha. I try to go as large as possible on each turn, giving myself some precious seconds to rest between each effort. I reach the top, it was hard but manageable, nothing compared to the struggle, or to the reputation of Wrynose and Hardnott which I will now have to face twice each, on the way out, and back. I take a moment to lift my head up and admire the landscape, what a wonderful part of the world! I wish Radka and the kids where here to see this…

Wrynose East
After descending Wall-end, we soon hit the East face of Wrynose, I had no clue about what to expect, but as we get closer, I see the pass in front of me, with some tiny little cyclists climbing towards the top, it seams to go on and on and on, and I wonder how much of a lead these guys might have?
I open my jackets’ zippers, remind myself of Pab’s advices: “high cadence and easy effort going up-hill”, so I start to climb, for the third time of the day, passing a few other guys (probably those from the last descent), as they struggle out of their saddle, while I’m trying to stay in mine for as long as possible – Good thing Lars Ronning advised me to change my cassette and derailleur, at this moment it feels like £200 well spent! – For the purists, I’m climbing with a 36 front chainring and a 32 cassette at the back…
THIS IS HARD, it keeps on getting steeper and steeper, and it goes on and on and on, my legs are screaming, I’m no longer in my saddle, feel the cramps in quads, WTF, I have another 3 of those bastard climbs left, I can’t start cramping now!!! That F%£@ climb is impossible, how the hell am I supposed to finish that it!? I’m taking over some more cyclists, how the hell did they get there in the first place, I came out the swim around the 30th position, how many of these guys have passed me downhill??? Anyway, I’m struggling, they’re struggling, everyone is struggling, I’m gasping for air, every, single, pedal stroke, hurts! I want to put my foot down and walk, but I remember James and Mike telling me that it will only be harder if I do, so I hang on for the last effort, I’m about to reach the top, it’s soo steep, unbelievable!
A few more revs and I finally reach the summit, this was the hardest effort I have ever done… And it wasn’t even Hardnott… I’m dreading what comes next!

At the summit, I stop by Lars’ wife, Helen, she offers me a welcoming smile and a banana, and since she has a thermos, I drink an opportunistic espresso, Surely I’m going to need the caffeine very soon… By the way, it’s still raining, but it’s almost irrelevant…
On the way down, the road surface is rough, but the incline is not too bad, or at least it doesn’t seem as bad as the East face that I’ve just been climbing, meaning the way back should at least be a little easier, relief.

A quick chat with a vet on the flat section leading to Hardnott, confirms that Wyrnose might actually be the biggest difficulty of the day, but the West side of Hardnott is not to be dismissed, thanks man!
I’ve burnt a few candles already, I’ve been on the bike for about 2:30 hours, and now comes Hardnott pass.

Hardnott East
Hardnott is known to be the steepest tarmac road in the UK, Jo and Alan (Team Josey) drove it yesterday, and figured it owed to be wallpapered! Not much choice though, now we’re here, so let’s get on with it.
The climb is much easier than the previous, or maybe I’m just getting use to the pain? It actually is shorter, and apart from a few short steep parts, it’s not so bad, I soon reach the top, 4 down, 2 to go!
Oh wait! Just when you thought the day was getting easier, I’m starting the descent, and it’s sooo steep, in fact, I’m going at probably 10km/hour max! Clenching my brakes and trying my best not to let the bike pick up any speed, the surface is treacherous and the bends are mad, my rim brakes are still useless, the road is wet, I’m scared… I lean as far as possible backward, so not to tip over, this section is 33% and I have never imagined being able to get down something that steep on a road bike… I’m SLOW! But my hopes of doing a good time are long gone, and I’m only trying to finish this in one piece now…

I reach the aid station a little while later, I take a moment to empty my bladder, recharge my bottle, eat a cereal bar, and check my bike. Paul Aberson passes by at the same moment, but he doesn’t stop, shit! I’m no longer leading the EVO race, I gotta get back on my bike and catch-up with him.

After Hardnott, the route goes through a kind of boring 20km flat-ish (not flat at all, but it does feel flat compared to the rest) loop. I’m stuck between resting my legs, and push a little harder and risk bonking, so I decide to take it easy, and I slowly make my way up a few guys and catch-up with Paul. I’m glad to have some company. The rain has calmed down a little, and the weather is getting a little warmer, so I take off my rain jacket and Paul and I carry on at an easy pace around the rest of the loop, before heading back to Hardnott (West this time) to continue with our agony.

Did I mention the cattle grids? Nope? Well, it’s just worth knowing that there are lots, they are slippery, and they basically try to kill you even if you treat them with the utmost respect, treacherous ungrateful bastards!

Hardnott West
I can see Hardnott West from afar and it looks like we still have a bit to go before we get to it, but weirdly, the incline starts to pick up really early, I don’t remember this part being so steep on the way out… All of a sudden I’m really tired, and I’m really struggling up that first portion, what the hell is wrong with me? My legs feel like jelly… The road flattens a little bit (meaning 10-12%) but we soon hit the hard bit, that first portion has already made my legs tired, and this one is borderline impossible, I get out of the saddle, back in for a few seconds, then out again, ridiculous switchbacks, one after another, I want to come off and start walking, but it’s so steep I don’t think I’ll manage to unclip before falling off, so I hang on for another few meters, and I decide to unclip when the incline becomes easier, I fall off because I can’t put my foot down quickly enough, embarrassing…
I put my rubber cleat protectors on, and I start walking up, some bikes pass by me, but to be fair, given the speed at which they are going, it wasn’t worth trying to stay on anyway. Once again, it’s steep, my cleats are sliding at each step. After about 30 meters, the road gets flatter, I realise I’ve lost my rubber protections (that’s why it felt so slippery…), Paul catches up with me and confirms that the rubber bits fell off as soon as I put them on, oh well…
I get back on my bike and carry on with the climb until the summit, this last bit is not too bad…

Between Hardnott and Wrynose, there’s a 10-minute flat portion, I’m very tired now and I let Paul carry on ahead of me while I get a gel and some hydration in. The head wind is very strong, and I simply don’t feel like pushing, knowing what’s ahead of me… I think I’m bonking, so I’m just going to take my time for a while and gather my strength for the last climb.

Wrynose West
I’ve caught up with Paul, or maybe he waited for me, to be honest I no longer care… I feel a little bit fresher, I remember coming down that bit earlier today, and I know it wasn’t as bad as going up, the climb is quickly swallowed, my legs are back, my breathing is back, I feel energised, This might have been the easiest climb of the day (if I remember well).

Paul and I stick together for the last 15km that will take us to T2, it’s long and I have enough, I’m tired, my back aches again, I just want to get on with the run now… We reach T2 after almost 5 hours on (and off) the saddle.

T2
In T2, we are told that the conditions have worsen at the top of the mountain, and that the run will now be 2 loops, no longer going to the summit of Fairfield mountain, but now to Nab Scar and down back to transition, before going again for more of the same… Since the climb to Nab Scar is actually the steepest bit of the course, we’ll actually climb even more… Awesome (not…)!
It’s gonna be a long run, so I take my time, I eat and drink plenty, and I make sure I have a lot in my backpack. 8 minutes later (T1 also took me forever – 7.30) I’m off on the run…

Run 1st loop
The first part of the run, is a 3.5km flat tarmac run, Collette, who didn’t swim nor bike, starts the run with me, but I quickly tell her to go ahead since cramps are starting to creep up my legs and I don’t want to overdo it. I get in my rhythm and quickly I pick up the pace. Robert, who hasn’t done the bike either, due to a technical problem, passes by me at km 3.5, he points to a peak in front of us, and tells me that’s where we are going, I don’t really believe him, because we’ve already done more than 3k, and the loop is only 10.5k, so he must be mistaken, otherwise it means we’ll go up 500m in the next 1.5k… (that’s a lot of calculus… but I haven’t got much else to do anyway…) Rob is going at a good pace, so I let him go too, I like this guy, always smiling!
I soon get onto a steep portion, Robert is just in front, walking, he must know what he is doing, so I emulate and walk up. Given the incline, I’m starting to believe what he was saying, indeed, it looks like we’re going up that way… Oh boy!
On the sidewalk, some people are cheering, some others are startled, and the atmosphere between Athletes is awesome, everyone salutes everyone, pretty cool.
What’s also cool, it that we’ve now left tarmac, and we are on a trail path, going up a mountain, at a relatively slow pace, while others, already on the way back, are flying down. I wonder how far the summit is, and a guy tells me it’s another 20 minutes of climbing away, really? 20 minutes for…1km?
I finally reach the top, catch-up with Collette who’s got something in her shoe (that’s what she wants us to believe, I reckon she’s just tired, hahaha). And I start going down as quick as possible, this is fun, but dangerous, a single wrong step and I could end up on my bottom or twist an ankle, so I pick up some speed, but I’m careful not to overdo it. I soon reach the bottom of the hill, my quads are hurting, but the rest of my muscles are more relaxed. On the way down I saw Paul, Rachel and Lars who are all looking pretty good, keep going guys! 

As I get on to the road part, I realise that I now have a 6.5km flat section to run, to get to transition and then back here again, that’s going to be boring and mind numbing, so I go slow and easy, cramps are starting to get back at me and I’m desperately in need of salt or electrolytes.
I reach the transition area, touch the organisers table, give me bib number, refill my backpack bladder, desperately try to find some electrolytes, but all I can find is a gel. I still have a couple of mines, but I’ll eat this one now anyway, just in case it helps…

Run 2nd loop
This is when the real struggle starts… Not sure what’s in that gel, but it just doesn’t work with me, it tastes like SIS (which I can’t stomach) and frankly, it upsets me more than it works. My legs are cramping all over, I feel very tired, that second loop is going to be very long… A quick look at my watch to check my pace, WTF, I don’t want to believe it, this is the slowest I’ve ever ran, I usually walk faster than this… Feck feck feck… I’ve got enough of that shit…
Collette catches up with me again, she is going strong, and Robert has now long gone, I see Jo and Alan Josey who are on their way back from their first loop, Alan hands me a precious salt tablet, Halleluiah!!! Placebo effect or not, I’m still exhausted, but at least cramps are leaving me alone. I remember that I have some Coke in my bag but decide to keep it for later. I get to the beginning of the climb, it’s getting darker, foggier, and I’m alone, there is nobody in front or behind me, where the hell are all the others? I’m starting to be pretty cold; the path is now slippery; the visibility is clearly diminishing, and now it’s raining again…
Nothing much to say about this climb, it’s hard, but simply because I have no energy left, it’s not painful, it’s less boring than the flat, but it’s just long… I can’t wait to be on the way down, where I can start picking up some speed again.
Towards the top, I finally catch-up with a few guys, Rob is on his way down, I estimate 20 minutes ahead of me, still looking good, I reach the top, quick exchange of words with the marshals, and then back down without wasting time… I can’t admire the scenery like I did on the first loop, my mind is not at it anymore, and the visibility is not good anyway… Rachel and Paul are on their way up, and so is Lars, not far behind, everyone looks pretty tired now… When I get to the bottom of the hill, Ilya is about to start the climb, he too looks tired, hang on in there mate, nearly done.
On the last 3.5 km flat portion of the run, I take whatever gels I have left, I drink little and often, and I down that small bladder of Coke which I had taken, it’s warm, but it’s good!

As I’m approaching the end, I’m passed by a weird guy running bare chest, is he not cold??? I make a joke about it, so he slows down and start chatting with me, he is a Polish Ultra Runner. I tell him to keep going, I’m too tired and I’m gonna need to walk for a bit, but he starts walking with me and tells me that’s pretty normal in Ultra-Land, Fair enough, thanks mate! Let’s jog to the finish then…

At the finish line, a group of EVO supporters are cheering me on, and it brings a big smile on my face… I’ve done it! I beat that flipping course! I get my medal and give a few high fives to the blokes around me. I’m very happy, despite being disappointed with my time (9.02 hours…), but I’d never experienced such conditions in any events before, so I guess it’ll make me stronger, I’ve learnt so much today!

I’m a finisher of Tri X Half 2019. What an amazing event, from beginning to the end, no faffing, no timing chips, no stupid rules, I just loved the simplicity of it, coupled to its toughness, remember: “Do not underestimate the severity of this race”! Indeed, it was tough… But I’m now the happier for having gone through with it!
As I said at the beginning, I don’t know if this is the hardest 70.3 in the world, but it clearly is the hardest thing I have experienced. Thank you, Mark Blackburn and team, for organising such an amazing event, I will be back, and I’ll bring some friends along!

Triathlon X Half 2019
Swim (1.9km): 35 mins
T1 : 7 mins
Bike (90km): 4:52 hours
T2 : 8 mins
Run (22km): 3:22 hours
Finish: 9:05 hours (54th/110 finishers/200+registrants)