Last year the EPIC team had a meeting and the conversation turned towards middle distance races. EPIC have been organising events in the NW now for 11 years and we thought that a really tough, challenging and great middle distance race in the NW could be a great additional to the regional calendar. The dream of EPIC man was born and we started discussing venues and routes.
Having been involved with EPIC since the start, I mentioned that the Lune / Halton Army Camp was a possibility and that I knew a really hard bike ride into the Trough of Bowland which we could use for the bike course. We loaded up Strava on the laptop and 'just out of interest' mapped the route which I had in mind to see how far it was. On the last 'click' the distance appeared in front of us... 56 miles. It was a sign... It was an EPIC sign... we needed to make it happen.
The run course was simple, with great cycling networks in Lancaster, the canal aqueduct is something we'd used many times on rides up to the lakes and the Crook O Lune cycle path made an out and back course really simple to manage.
Roll forwards 12 months and after a lot of planning, the inaugural EPIC Man race weekend was upon us. We'd planned it to tie in with people racing an Ironman race in July, so it could be used as preparation, the calendar date was June 11th, at least we'd have the best chance of good weather on that weekend.
The week prior to the event, the forecast threw a 'curve ball' into our plans. Heavy rain and winds forecast put the swim in doubt. After so much planning, the thought of not running the race was absolutely gutting, but we were determined to give it the best chance. I turned up Sunday morning and the water safety crew looked unhappy, they were shaking heads and saying that the swim wasn't possible. We'd been monitoring the river height all week on the Environment Agency website and we had hopes that we'd at least be able to run a shorter swim, keeping people close to the bank upstream.
Rob was on the boat and he shouted across to the bank "It's not flowing fast close to the bank, it's pretty still". I looked at the others and said "someone needs to go in and swim and try it out". There was a silence as they looked blankly in my direction... clearly I was going to have to take one for the team. Wetsuit on and into the water, i swam at an easy pace to judge how it would be for the 'average' swimmer and went nowhere. It was like swimming in an endless pool, but a bloody freezing cold one. Two minutes was enough... no swim, we revert to the bike TT format.
It's always tricky in those circumstances as people have come for a triathlon. But we figured that a lot of people wanted to test themselves or complete a big brick session for Ironman and we were confident that doing the bike/run would provide that. Riders set off at 15 second gaps, I waited until everyone had started and were away safely, then jumped on my bike and rolled over the mat.
I've ridden the route many times and love the course, but I've never ridden it at 'race pace' and not in 20mph winds. It was a bit more challenging that I'd anticipated and judging by the faces of the other riders, they felt the same way. But hey, it's not MEDIOCRE Man so crack on. The cross winds made it 'twitchy' using deep section front wheels, but not half as twitchy as being assaulted by cat when riding at 25mph or a suicidal sheep who clearly took offense at me riding too quickly. It's fair to say that the course is stunning and whilst we all suffer when racing, you have to appreciate the beauty of the route. The road surface isn't the best in places, but the original idea was to provide a great day out and you don't get that on dual carriage ways.
The TT format added extra interest as you were just racing against yourself and setting off last, there was plenty of company. At T2 I was wishing we'd opted to cancel the run rather than the swim but set off at a steady pace to start the FLAT run. Now... I know we said it was flat, but technically you have to uphill / downhill if you're following a river or it wouldn't flow. The cadets were doing a sterling job at the feed stations and the atmosphere was building. I have to say HATS OFF to the COLT crew, who turned out to support with great spirit and EPIC Man himself who was at the run turn point. What I enjoyed the most on the run was the camaraderie with other runners. I've said this 1000 times and I'll say it again, the NW region is the most social triathlon community and there were so many familiar faces 'loving' the run.
The last 5k was very tough and those steps.... I can't get them out of my head and will have nightmares for the next few weeks. I don't generally keep medals as they're not something that really interest me, but I think I'm gonna keep this one. From those I spoke to at the finish, the initial disappointment or 'happiness' in some cases that the swim was cancelled had disappeared. They came for a tough day out and I think most people got it. Congrats everyone who took part, you might want to have a day off tomorrow. Over and out.
The Endurance Store
We're not just a shop, we're a community