Half-Brutal Triathlon Race Report – 2022

September 20th, 2022 • Posted in News |

I’ve done the Half Brutal triathlon before, back in 2017, placing 29th out of 90 starters. And I did the Full in 2018 –– now known as the Brutalist Brutal Ever –– when a red weather warning shut Snowdon and I had to run two more laps of that lake in the dark, with a fading head torch, in 40mph winds and rain. I think they call it character building.

So I knew what I was letting myself in for doing the Half Brutal again this year, right? Well, yes. But being 5 years older, ten pounds heavier, and less fit with post-Covid loss of mojo meant that this was destined to be pretty much the hardest race I’ve ever done.

There’s definitely some advantages in revisiting a race you’ve done before, especially one like this. My Half Brutal of 2017 remains one of my favourite races out of a dozen halfs and five full-distance ironmans. The low-key organisation, cameraderie, Brutal Events’ desire to give you the best race experience, and that utterly stunning landscape made it a pleasure (if you set aside the pain for a while). So it was an easy choice to go back, and knowing the layout, the route, and what I was about to face meant I was pretty laid back about the whole thing. Pre-race butterflies, sure, but if you don’t get them you’re odd and possibly not quite human.

It’s funny how memories can fade. I’ll get back to that later.

My good mate Mike was coming up to support me, having signed up for the Half just a few weeks before and then coming down with Covid. He made the wise decision to defer––even though he was over the illness, this isn’t a race to take a chance with. So it was great having Mike take me to the start in the morning, help me carry my kit, and generally ease my nervousness. Top bloke.

This is going to be fine, I thought. Atmosphere in the transition tent I’d describe as nervous excitement, with a hint of rubber and chamois cream.

I’ve done this before, I thought. It’ll be fine.

That fading memory, again …

The Swim––following a minute’s silence for the Queen, who’d passed away just two days before, we entered the water … and it was like a bath. Lovely! Ah, I thought, a good omen, this is going to be easy. I finished the swim in 34 minutes, a great time for me. Note to self: only swimming once a week for two months before a race is obviously the way to go. If such lack of training translates into decent times across the board, I was probably going to win!

Onto The Bike––I’d planned on hitting about 1:50 for each 29 mile lap around the Snowdon, and the first lap I was spot on. There’s only one nasty steep hill, and the 3 mile climb up to Pen-y-Pass is just a long slow grind, with mind-bogglingly glorious views to distract you from any discomfort. The weather was perfect, sun peeking through the clouds, and I kept glancing up at Snowdon’s summit. Cloud-wrapped one minute, clear and exposed the next. I was looking forward to getting up there later in the day, trotting up like a frisky mountain goat, leaping from rock to rock and dodging past people out to climb for the day and acknowledging their impressed applause. Yep.

The second bike lap was five minutes slower, and I was feeling it in my legs, but I still enjoyed it. Apart from almost being taken out by a car overtaking another cyclist (not racing) who was climbing Pen-y-Pass from Llanberis side, while I was descending in the middle of my lane. Mostly drivers were pretty good, but it does seem common in the area to be overtaken on blind corners, so those racing all had to keep their wits about them. Brutal’s insistence on every cyclist wearing hi-viz was very wise.

Off the bike and onto The Run––and as usual I went out too fast, happy to be on two feet and jogging around the lake. A couple of miles in and the hills hit … and so did the cramps. And no, not the punk band. I necked down some crisps at the aid station, and though salted peanuts are the devil’s own food I had a couple of handfuls, sucking in the salt.

I jogged most of the mountain climb last time, I kept thinking. I’ll be fine. Ah, my poor faded memory.

Pain is like this. I always hated the dentist, but I got through my dislike of injections etc by trying to observe objectively, and regarding the pain as research (I write for a living so anything is research). And pain is something you don’t remember after it’s gone. It’s fleeting (okay, maybe not so fleeting, as DOMS always hangs around for a few days, but you get my drift). So yeah, the pain fades, as does the memory of pain.

As I finished the lake run and tried to inhale more salty food in transition, I was actually looking forward to the mountain. 9 miles up and down and I’d done it before. No problem.

I started out, and soon the problems began. My legs were weak and cramping, and that first steep climb up the tarmac path was tough. It all very quickly became tougher. I jogged maybe 200 metres in the first mile, then I decided to just slow to a power walk. This I did, but soon the ‘power’ bit of that phrase disappered. Then the ‘walk’ bit almost vanished too, as I found myself struggling to put one foot in front of the other.

I’ve done some tough races. I like them. I’m not particularly fast in any discipline (apart from post-race cake eating, perhaps), I’ll never chase a podium, so I like challenging myself with races like The Fan Dance, Ironman Wales, Blaenavon Triathlon. But I’ve never felt so tired, weak and pained as I did climbing Snowdon. I’ve also never DNF’d, but there was half an hour on that climb when I really started to wonder if I could do it. I was necking down flapjacks and gels, drinking water, but what got me through was what I love about these types of races, and the Brutal in particular––other competitors. I started climbing with a couple of other guys, and I’m not sure I’d have finished otherwise.

At last the top was in sight, and we had glorious views, and I suddenly felt better. I knew there was no way I wouldn’t finish now, so along with the other guys I started jogging back down. Weak legs meant I almost took a tumble three or four times, but I managed to stay on my feet. Yes, it was hurting almost as much on the way down, but we could see the lake now, and we knew the pain would end soon. And then we hit the tarmac and we were almost home.

What a great feeling. Mike was at the finish waiting for me (and he bought me two much-needed coffees, loaded with sugar), Brutal Claire gave me my medal, and somehow it was Job Done.

Anyone reading this, take note – they use the name Brutal Extreme Triathlons for a reason. This half-ironman took me 9 hours, and I still finished in the top half of the field. It is … Brutal. But it is amazing.

A few beers and a curry later, I completely failed to sleep through the night because of pains in my legs and Achilles and heels, but I was buzzing. And I kept reminding myself (as I did on that long painful run) that we do this stuff because we love it.

And as for that poor fading memory––yes, toughest race ever, and I went to some very dark places despite the sun being out all the way up that mountain … but I’m already thinking about confronting the Full Brutal once again next year.

I mean, I’ve done it before, after all. I’ll be fine.

Run Walk Crawl: Getting Fit In My Forties‘ available now from Amazon.

Please Feel Free to Share:



Leave a comment: