With the departure of the forum tri team Pirate Ship of Fools to compete in Ironman Switzerland in seven weeks time, a significant number of the scurvy gang decided to meet in North Wales for the Bala Middle Distance triathlon. Although not quite half IM distance, the event was longer than most of the forum contingent had attempted to date.
The previous months of frenzied training had not been without its casualties. A week before the race the list of injuries had grown amongst the forumite entrants. Starters included: Carl Barthorpe, Ratbag, Jelly Babe, Cougie (severely sprained ankle) intending to just do the swim, Godzilla (knee trouble), Avalaf (ankle injury), Monique (ankle injury), Lindihopper, Oxymoron, Little fat Welshman, 8iron, Grizzly and The Count.
Unfortunately, Grizzly never made it out of Epsom due to car trouble and the small matter of a local horserace gridlocking his exit.
The 11 surviving shipmates had arranged to meet up the day before the race to test out the icy waters of Llyn Tegid. With the weather trying its best to recreate a vision from a recent Guinness advert the brave made their way into the dark, grey swell. A few of the more experienced swimmers made it out to the first main buoy for the race but Ratbag, JB and 8iron decided they had proved their worth and headed for home after reaching the nearest buoy to the shore.
Saturday evening was spent discussing the weather, the VERY noticeable pirate triathlon kit and race nutrition. This race could make a real impact on the decision to sail with the other pirates to Switzerland, so much care was taken to ensure a fresh start in the morning. After a few pints of Guinness we all headed home for the night.
Sunday morning arrived and the expected bad weather was nowhere to be seen. Instead, it was a slightly overcast and dry day that greeted us from the tent. We packed up and headed for the start area. All of the pirates were there, most of them wearing the now instantly recognisable bright yellow kit with a black skull and crossbones front and back. Bikes were readied and transition equipment checked over once and then once again.
The race was delayed a short while, adding to the tension that was already noticeable amongst a few of the less experienced athletes. Soon the time arrived to don the wetsuits for the start of the race and the group began to disperse and make their way to the two-wave start.
The first wave was senior men, the second women and vets. It is quite hard to identify anyone in an open water swim, so we spectators spent the next 30 minutes getting coffee and praying for a speedy return. First out was The Count, pumping the air and gleaming in yellow and black. The pirates then started to come thick and fast: Big Dave, Oxy, then 8iron, Godzilla, Carl, Avalaf, Monique, LfW, Lindi, Ratbag and lastly Jellybabe. Cougie had planned only to do the swim due to injury, so retired for coffee and muffins in the warmth of the nearest café.
Godzilla’s day wasn’t going to plan either – after around 10 miles and few of the steepest hills on the bike course he realised his knee wasn’t going to last, so sensibly called it a day.
The bike course was a 50-mile loop over the Welsh hills. Competitors faced a brisk wind for the first 18 miles, but knew it was going to help them in the final stretch home. Leaving the star supporters Katie and Jo to go out onto the run course, a few of us spectating made our way to the top of a long climb at around the 35-mile mark to cheer on the forumites. Seeing the leading competitors beam at the sight of three strangers cheering them on made time pass very quickly. However, we were only there for one reason: PIRATES. One by one they came past us, almost all bearing the mark of the Jolly Roger, some covered up due to the cold winds, but all pleased to nearly be home. Someone had also been out marking the roads with chalk for our merry band, which kept spirits up too. All the pirates passed competitors on the bike, spurring them on into T2, and the final 20k run.
After watching as many of the group as possible make it past our vantage point we left to get to the run course to shout some more. We decided that seeing each person finish would be a good place to get pictures so camped out around 200m from the finish line to give a boost for that final push.
Our wait for team PSOF didn’t last long with The Count (4.38.08) running in triumphant as first pirate home. Monique (4.55.19) followed, having made up considerable time on the run. Next was Big Dave (5.02.39) – a great result after his open water swimming came together on the day, closely followed by Lindi (5.03.38). Then Dr Rob (5.22.33) – another forumite, but not yet a pirate – was cheered in, mainly due to his Union Jack shorts but his smile went a long way too. LfW (5.22.39) made it home next for the local Welsh pirates, chasing Dr Rob all the way down the finishing straight. Oxy (5.27.29), who had suffered with stomach cramps from the swim and constantly battled with his nutrition as a result, delivered a great last 10K. 8iron (5.33.32) followed, cheered on by his own support crew as well as the pirate cheerleaders. Ratbag (5.36.33), who had been one of the last to exit the water, picked up once again on the run, followed by Avalaf (5.52.52), who has now decided that he will definitely compete at IM Switzerland, despite his recent injuries.
With baited breath we awaited our last two pirates. Carl (6.13.55) appeared over the grassy dunes to great applause, finishing one place ahead of Jellybabe (6.27.34). Jellybabe had been the last but two to exit the swim, and through frozen fingers and great determination (and a little help from a marshal) braved a lonely bike to be rewarded with what can only be described as a grandstand finish by all the waiting PSOF forum crew. She crossed the finishing line with her daughter Katie, who had championed her all the way round.
A final mention must go to Lindi: she couldn’t swim this time last year, and came 3rd in her age group. Well done to all.