A few months ago I decided in my infinite wisdom and following Mike Daly’s excellent race report after the September edition of the race, to sign up for “The ROC Trilogy”.

The ROC is an interesting shake up on the traditional Triathlon Swim, Bike, Run format with a few additional quirks thrown in. Effectively, each race consists of:

  • 1500m swim (if it’s warm enough)
  • Bike to a big hill
  • Run up the aforementioned Big Hill
  • Run down the aforementioned Big Hill
  • Cycle back to the start
  • Have a little run to the finish line

The trilogy is three races across the course of the year, in Wales (May), England (September) and Scotland (October). The three big hills are Snowdon, Scafell Pike and Ben Nevis. Having never been up any of them I figured “How hard can it be”.

In short, and if you want the short version of this report. Really hard.

Training as is always the case for me was a bit of a stop start situation, despite my best efforts consistency has never been a strong point as life always finds a way to make life difficult.

I made some good gains on the bike in the first couple of training blocks, and managed to get back into some swim consistency. Nursing a recurring calf injury meant running was a bit of a challenge, but my conclusion after looking at the Watkin path gradient was that it was unlikely I’d be running much of it, more a light jog. I did some decent incline sessions on the treadmill and a few runs over Cleeve hill.

A health scare and a holiday put a bit of a downer on training from late March onward (although the holiday was well deserved and Becky and my first “proper” break since our honeymoon back in 2019).

I lost a few days leading up to the race having some further diagnostics and a couple of work trips, leading to a suboptimal last couple of weeks but I’ve made my peace with the “life gets in the way”, Triathlon is great fun and I love challenging myself but other things are more important and I think sometimes we forget.

Fast forward to race week, we drove up late Friday afternoon, checked into our accommodation, a lovely little guesthouse and wandered down to the beach to check in and drop of mountain bags (you throw your backpack and shoes into a bag and they take it off of to T2 the night before). The atmosphere was pretty great with a DJ and various other events (a 1km kids run and a 2km Hawaiian themed thing), if we’d not arrived so late it would have been great to soak in some of the atmosphere, I think my first bit of advice to anyone thinking about doing it would be to go down on the Thursday to give yourself a bit more time to get settled.

The water temperature was 12.3 degrees when I checked in meaning they’d laid out the full 1500m course, it had been touch and go in the weeks leading up to it if it’d even be warm enough to do any sort of swim (below 11 it’s a 3k trail run instead). I couldn’t quite work out if I was relieved or not, on the one hand, 3k more running before jumping on the bike before running again before jumping on the bike before running again sounds rubbish, on the other hand the sea is cold.

Contemplating the pros and cons, we then had some fish and chips by the sea whilst listening to some marginally odd Welsh rap DJ coming from the race village.

Race Day

Race morning was a predictably early affair, with the race starting at 0800 the alarm was set for 0600 sharp. Woke up, felt like death, coughing up goodness knows what. Oh goodie, the tiny ginger bioweapon that is my Son has struck again.. Applied the race tattoos, forced a coffee and some porridge down the hatch, woke the support crew and roamed down to the start.

At this point it’s worth noting (and getting my excuses in early) I had felt the warning signs a couple of days before and had set expectations for the day accordingly, whilst I still took the TT bike, knowing it was going to be hot I donned my road helmet rather than the sweatbox that is the TT helmet, and I tapered expectations a little.

On the morning of the race, and my “plan” changed again to “let’s see if I can get through the swim and take it one bit at a time”.

<end of excuses (for now)>

Racking up was a snotty experience, but we got through it and squeezed into the wetsuit which appears to have shrunk yet again!

In terms of conditions on the morning, we really couldn’t have asked for much better, the sea was perfectly calm and the sun was shining. Jumped in for a little acclimatisation and it didn’t feel anywhere near as cold as expected which was an added bonus.

As an interlude, I really dislike swim hats, they’re a pain in the arse and fall off taking the goggles with them.

0800 sharp, we got going; it was a mass start from the beach with swimmers self seeding themselves, I’m not one for the Hussle and bustle so I tend to seed near the back, a decision that was well worth it thanks to my outrageously poor swim.

I’m going to largely blame the lurgy, but to cut a long story short, I just could not get a decent breath in. The trip out to the first bouy was a combination of breast stoke, the odd couple of strokes of freestyle and straight up stopping to try and get my HR and breathing in check. I did eventually get into a bit of a rhythm, but by this point I wasn’t far off the last swimmer. I’ve put a pretty large amount of work into my swimming over the last year and was understandably a bit frustrated when I got out the water in 39:10, although Garmin did insist (and with a clean GPS track, that I’d swum nearer to 2000m @1:59/100m so take from that what you will).

Swim: 39:10

Regardless, with how I was feeling I was just relieved not to have had to sack the swim in and DNF.

Jumping on the bike I was feeling altogether more positive about life, the universe and everything and for a change after a swim, actually felt pretty warm with no shivering.

The bike is a straightforward “out and back” to Snowdon on reasonably busy roads, most of the drivers weren’t total muppets, unfortunately there was some congestion in Pwllhei and a few of my fellow competitors were a bit less sensible than I’d like. That being said, the marshalling/traffic control was largely excellent on the course, with traffic being stopped to allow you to get through. I think overall in the bike I put my foot down twice, once for the traffic coming into Pwllhei and the other for a random and seemingly entirely unnecessary set of temporary traffic lights.

The bike was largely uneventful on the way out, I was putting out less power than expected at a higher heart rate than expected, but that wasn’t really a surprise and I set out to take it easy and “get it done”. Again, a bit disappointed with the bike split, but understanding of it.

Bike 1: 2:34:54

T2 had a decent, well equipped feed station with protein shakes, bananas etc. I grabbed a protein shake to go with my water, and cracked on.

The run up Snowdon takes the Watkin path, which I believe is the most ascent of any of the paths, the first four km or so is a steady climb which I had convinced myself I might be able to at least jog on. Maybe on a good day, but in the race a brisk walk was all I could manage. I met a lovely lady called sally who I stayed with until the 4km checkpoint, chatting rubbish, generally suffering together and adamant that we would make the mandatory 12pm 4km cutoff.. It was aggressively hot and by the time 4km had come around I’d got through two bottles of water and the protein shake. I was starting to get dehydrated and struggling as the incline increased steadily.

My singular complaint about the whole day from an organisational perspective was the lack of promised emergency water at the 4km cut off, given the weather conditions and the amount of liquid people were getting through it was an oversight not to have fluids available here.

Making the 4km checkpoint with a tight but “who cares” 10 minutes to spare, it was clear I was getting to the top whether I wanted to or not! The next couple of km was a real slog, but I met some real characters both heading up and coming down, and the views were absolutely spectacular. A very kind gentleman gifted me a bottle of water which made the last bit a lot more pleasant and I think saved me from some real dehydration issues (I was not comfortable at all..) and after the last km scrambing up some fairly tricky technical terrain I made it to the top (well almost) of Wales’ highest mountain. The ROC route slightly annoyingly stops about 20m from the top at the train station but I was damned if I was walking up any further..

Run 1 – 2:07:56

After a quick break for rehydration (if you know you know) and feeling quite substantially better, I headed down. After the first km of scrambling, the rest of the downhill is pretty easy going and I made much better time. On a good day, I’d have been able to run most of it, on the day it just wasn’t going to happen but again, made decent time all things considered.

Run 2: 1:26:02

The return bike was absolutely dreadful, cramp hit and continued to hit for the last 30km (out of 50) resulting in me having to stop either three or four times. It was absolutely, without a shadow of a doubt, the worst I’ve ever felt on a bike. The return bikes sole redeeming factor was that I got it done. I do think, had my phone not have run out of battery there were a couple of points where I really would have considered just sacking it in and withdrawing.

Looking back at the second bike, I think there were a number of things that led to the awful experience and in the interests of learning and getting better:

  • General fatigue, Snowdon is a tough climb at the best of times, with the heat it was really tough.
  • Dehydration was the main cause of the cramp I suspect, I probably should have spent a bit more time at T3 rehydrating.
  • Illness, self explanatory, my HR was ~20% higher than it should have been.
  • Fuel, I didn’t factor the increased HR in and was probably under fueled as a result.
  • Training: Not enough longer (2h+) sessions on the TT bike

Lessons learnt.

Coming back along the road to Abersoch, I was emotional, cars clearly on the way back from the race were pooping horns and shouting words of encouragement, I can only imagine how horrific I looked, if it was anything like I felt it can’t have been a pretty sight. Likewise, coming through the town into T-whatever we’re on at this point people were cheering and encouraging, a genuinely amazing atmosphere.

Bike 2: 2:03:33

The 1km run past the finish line and back was the hardest part of the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I had to stop twice for crippling cramp in both upper and lower legs, but we got it done and I crossed the finish line 8 hours and 45 minutes after starting.

I’m proud of getting round on a day that tested me to beyond anything I’ve ever been tested before. I’d rather have done Bolton with my shoulder hanging off again than repeat the race I had on Saturday, but we got it done.

The next race in the trilogy isn’t until September, so I’ve got time to implement a slightly new strategy (including quarantining before the race) and in true “type 2 fun” fashion, I can’t wait!

One final thought from final run leg me, apologies for those of you with a delicate disposition, I might say a naughty word, but at the time I couldn’t think of a more eloquent way to put it..