One of my favourite events from 2013 was the Icebreaker; it was a massive surprise to win, as I am certainly not a multi-sport athlete, but I had to try it again this year and hoped to defend my title. Last year I didn’t do that much running as training, but seemed to do OK, so this year I did a little more run training in the run up, hoping to improve my run times.
The day of the race came and it couldn’t have been much different to last year, which was held under blue skies. This year, it was almost cancelled due to the very bad weather we have been experiencing. It would have been quite ironic for a mudrunner to be cancelled due to an excess of mud! The night before I switched the rear tyre on my Pivot LES 29er to a Schwalbe Smart Sam 1.75″. I’ve never used the tyre before, but knew from looking at it that it would suit a muddy course due to it being thin but having deep tread.
The venue at Eastnor Castle is somewhere I know well, having competed in all Mountain Mayhem events that were held there and if there is one thing I have learnt it is how muddy the place gets but I have never seen it as bad as this year – and that includes the epic mud of Mountain Mayhem 2012!
With my bike racked up, bike kit waiting, I took my place on the start line at 11am ready for the off. I could see right away that there were some serious athletes here this year, including a few cyclists and one guy in a tri-suit. When the gun went, we headed along a seriously wet and muddy field and, even within the first hundred meters, the guy in the tri-suit was distancing the pack. By 1km, he had a good gap on everyone else and over 30 seconds over myself, uh oh. I managed 4min 25sec for the first km, which was always going to be the fastest of the race and, from there on, I had to settle into my own pace, which meant lots of people coming by. By halfway, I knew I was struggling, losing more ground than last year despite the extra run training. The ground was incredibly muddy, lots of deep puddles, lots of land rover tracks and the occasional muddy field. I was watching the km’s tick by and longed for the bike to start!
The end of the run is marked with about 100 metres through a stream or, given the recent heavy rainfall, would be better described as a swollen, brown torrent. After getting through the water, it was finally time to hit the bike, but I had the challenge of changing shoes with hands I could barely feel. I had used gloves when running, not to keep warm but to keep them clean ready for riding and I was really glad of it. I had heard from Nia that I was 39th after the bike and 9 minutes down on the leader. Lots of work to be done!
Onto the bike and I had a TORQ gel ready to consume with a bottle of energy on the bike. My nutrition plan was to only eat/drink on the bike, so I needed to make the most of it. Within the first few kilometres I had passed 30 or so of those ahead of me and onto the long climb to the obelisk, the highest point of the MTB course, I pushed hard, making the most of all the climbs. At the top I asked a marshall how many were in front, the answer “About 4 or 5“. Not bad, but with no one in sight I had lots to do. A long muddy section along the landrover tracks followed and the speed was slow with a few sections of carrying alongside very deep puddles. I managed to get by a few people then asked a photographer how many were ahead, the reply “about 4 or 5“. Still?! After the muddy section was over, there was a fast but relatively non-technical descent and a fast section on landrover tracks, then the road that borders what I know as the Mountain Mayhem campsite. Along the road I could see 3 riders ahead, 2 in a group and 1 further back.
At least a kilometre passed by before a long tarmac climb and another chance to really push on, catching and passing the single rider and then up the muddy climb to “plasticine woods”. Instead of turning right into the woods as you would in Mayhem, it was onto the field. I asked another marshall how many ahead, I finally had a certain reply “Only 3, just ahead“. Over the brow of the hill, I could see all 3 riders in a string out line about 500m ahead. Time to push hard!
The terrain was flat and easy for a while, so it took a while to catch up with people. The first person I passed was the guy in the tri-suit, followed shortly by Christian Jones and I could see the lead rider ahead, but I could see he was riding well and it took a while to catch up with him. We had a very steep climb and I paced myself, thinking I’d still get a gap, but Nick Slim behind was right on my tail. I knew I had to really push hard on the final 2-3km in order to get a gap and thats what I tried to do. The final 1km was really horrible, crossing very muddy fields where I was really glad I’d switched the rear tyre as the Smart Sam was digging deep and finding what little grip there was.
Into the transition I had about 30 seconds over Nick in 2nd place and tried to make the change back into my running shoes as quick as possible, leaving the arena still in the lead, but only just. I put down a final TORQ gel and hobbled onto the course. The final 3km was going to be grim and I could feel my legs on the verge of cramping and I was struggling to turn them over, but had to battle on. After a muddy field we headed into “the bog”. At first, it was waist deep and then I stepped into one scetion and it went right up to my shoulder, all thick, leaf litter and mud that I could barely move through.
The final climb followed and I couldn’t help but keep looking back. I seemed to be maintaining the gap and as I watched the distance tick by and onto the downhill I was getting more confident of holding the lead. Into the river again and the gap, distance wise, was only 10 metres or so, but the time was still 20 seconds. Out of the water and I pushed as hard as possible, crossing the line to take the win by a mere 23 seconds!
10km Run: 59:21 (39th)
20km MTB: 1hr 8min (1st)
3km Run: 16:25
Big thanks to the Mudrunner crew, I’ll be back again next year!