Chris Worfolk's Blog


Love SwimRun Llanberis

June 19th, 2022 | Sport

Love SwimRun Llanberis was my first swimrun, an advantage-style multi-sport event which includes several sections of running and swimming with no transitions: you swim in your trainers and run in your wetsuit.

While the UK baked in the consecutive days of the hottest day of the year, North Wales stubbornly hid behind clouds. The water temperature remained at 14 degrees (compared to 22 at my local lake) so I came as prepared as I could with a thermal neoprene vest under my wetsuit, calf sleeves and neoprene gloves, but still worried I might freeze to death.

Run 1

Despite raining at registration on Friday, Saturday was reasonably bright and rain-free. We set off on the first 2k run with me in the last position. I moved up as the run went on but having already donned my swim cap I was very toasty by the end of the run section. We headed into Llyn Padarn for our first swim and the water felt pretty pleasant after that.

Swim 1

Entry to the lake is slippy on the slate and not something you want to fall over into. The 550-metre swim section took us along the coast to an exit that was even more slippery. A giant slopping rock meant that the only way we could get up it was to queue, lie on our belly and attempt to get some purchase on the far edge, pulling ourselves up along it.

Run 2

Into run section two was no kinder: this was only 2k but went straight up a muddy hillside that was overgrown with nettles and thorns. It then continued in some tarmac before heading straight back down the hill on a technical descent that frequently became artificial steps.

Swim 2

The second swim headed straight across the lake. The far shore is often further away than you think of it. Mercifully, this time it wasn’t and the swim over was fairly brisk. The 450-metre stretch heads over and into a narrow cove that gets so shallow you have to walk across it. And yes, it’s very slippy slate. You can then swim again to the exit where the first feed station is located.

Run 3

The third run section completes the easy half of the figure-of-eight loop that takes you back past the start and the first feed station. I grabbed some crisps and a gel from my back pocket. It is only 300 metres and you stop in the middle of that for the feed station so there is not much chance to warm up. That’s relevant for the next section…

Swim 3

Now we are into the proper swimming. We have left the sprint racers behind and it is just the long course athletes taking the 1k stretch down to the far end of the lake. There is no turns, you just keep going until you run out of lake. It reminded me of swimming in the rowing lake at Outlaw: it just keeps going and going.

I started to feel a bit sick during this swim and also get cold. We had not warmed up in run 3 and this time I was in the water for 27 minutes so I was very pleased to have done with it by the time we reached the swim exit. Luckily, the slate here was only moderately slippy.

Run 4

The final run section constituted the main body of running. We started with a few kilometres of flat, albeit with a wooded climb in the middle. I used this chance to unroll my tow float and pull our a Yorkie bar. With hindsight, a few more chocolate bars would not have gone amiss. I tried to keep a descent pace here, while eating, to get my body temperature up.

After the first three kilometres, you start to climb up towards the slate quarry. It’s not a scrabbling with your hands climb and the surface is good underfoot: but is relatively sleep with a series of switchbacks to get to the top. Then you are treated to a little bit of flat before arriving at feed station two: time for another gel and some jelly babies.

The views up here were amazing. We were lucky that we got a clear day. I didn’t take a camera on the event but here is a photo from the castle looking over to the quarry we ran up.

The downhill starts on a gravel road and I tried to run hard down here to keep my body temperature up as I knew we were then going into a steep technical descent through the woods where I was back to carefully picking my foot placement at little above walking speed. The climp up was a lovely chance to chat to some of the other competitors and share stories.

Swim 4

Onto the final swim. At 1.1k this was the longest swim section but was maybe a little easier psychologically because we swam along the shore to a buoy and then turned, knowing that all we then had to do was cross the lake to reach the finish line.

I felt even sicker here. I am not sure whether it was the amount of lake water I had drunk by this point but I found that if I concentrated on exhaling continuously while in the water I felt a little better. A bit of wind caused a very slight chop on the water: nothing major but it did make it harder to breathe.

Turning the final buoy was an exercise in patience: I wanted to push harder to get the thing done but if you go too hard you can often end up cramping or tiring, so I tried to tempo it into the finish.

The finish

It was cold when I finished! As ever, I thought I had brought enough warm clothes but then wished I had brought more: I ended up wearing a merino base layer, hoodie, rain jacket, changing robe and towel all layered on top of each other.

My finish time was:

3:15:53

I was in the water for less time than estimated, but running for significantly more as I walked a lot of the steep uphills and technical descents. I don’t think I’m going to be a champion swimrunner: I was 60th out of 83, with additional DNF and and 25 DNSs.

That said, I did win! Despite finishing an hour and 12 minutes behind the winner, they also have a series of lucky dip prizes to encourage people to stick around for the medal ceremony and my number was the first to be called out of those that actually had stuck around. As such, I had first pick on the prizes and went for the bobble hat.

Thoughts on swimrun

All of this running in your wetsuit and swimming in your trainers business was fine. That said, on a hot day it would have become very toasty very quickly. Carrying your tow float was more of a pain in the ass. Even though I brought some carabiners to clip it, it still bounced around and sometimes I ended up carrying it.

Specifically for Llanberis, I wouldn’t want to have worn any less as the water was cold after you had been in it a while. I’m doing Manvers Lake next month and I will see how that compares: it is a more beginner-friendly affair with shorter swims and water that should be a lot warmer.

Love SwimRun seem well organised: I didn’t know how well you could manage a water safety team with a spread out field but there was always a kayak nearby and plenty of marshalls on course. Wearing a bib vest was better than having to mess around with a pinned-on number or race belt, even if it did make it a little harder to get to the chest zip on my wetsuit.

AAT level 2

June 18th, 2022 | Life

My certificate has arrived. It turned up damaged unfortunately but not badly enough that it’s worth my time doing anything about.

Sub7 / Sub8

June 17th, 2022 | Sport

Since Kipchoge broke the two-hour marathon barrier, albeit in non-world record conditions, there has been talk of doing a similar thing with full distance triathlon: could men go under 7 hours and could women go under 8 hours? Given this would involve taking 20+ minutes off, rather than the couple of minutes #breaking2 required it seemed like quite a challenge.

However, the way they set up the challenge made things a little easier. They chose four athletes: Kat Matthews, Nicola Spirig, Kristian Blummenfelt and Joe Skipper (who stepped in for an injured Alister Brownlee just a week before) and gave them 10 pacers each. Importantly, they could also use the pacers for drafting.

This meant that they hit their targets almost with ease. The special wetsuits, swim pacers, nutrition on a bike were all nice extras. But the thing that really made the difference is that Joe Skipper had eight professional cyclists doing a team time trial in front of him. This meant they circled the track at 55 kph with the athlete on the back only needing to put out 280-300 Watts to sit in the draft. That’s still way more power than I could put out but less than they would usually racr a full distance triathlon at.

Blummenfelt finished in 6:44:25 with Skipper three minutes behind him. On the women’s side, Kat Matthews finished in 7:31:54 with Spirig also three minutes behind her. So, the barrier was broken easily in the end. But in no way comparable to a regular full distance race because the drafting made such a huge difference. Potentially they could go even faster as the swim conditions were not ideal and if you matched Skipper’s superior bike team with Blummenfelt’s run you would have a faster combination.

Wuthering Heights Wander 2022

June 16th, 2022 | Sport

I first did the Wuthering Heights Wander last year to expand my trail running experience. It is an 8-kilometre loop that you can do any time from Once (like I did last time) to lots of times (for the ultra distance). This year, I was there for the three-loop course.

The course starts with a climb over the hills and down to the Bronte waterfall. I was fifth by the time we reached it but once we got to the top of the hill it changes to a downhill road section so I opened up my stride and moved up to second. I held onto this until almost the end when I had a chat with fellow HPH-er Michelle. As we were chatting the guy in third came past me so I had to sprint off to reclaim my second place!

I finished in:

02:30:39

Not quite as fast as last year but I did run three times farther!

Organisation by It’s Grim Up North Running was pretty slick with the exception that they couldn’t get hold of any toilets due to the Jubilee weekend and having no card facilities for the barbeque.

Professional Ethics course

June 15th, 2022 | News

My new course, Professional Ethics for Helping Professions, launched today. It is designed for therapists, coaches, teachers and other helping professionals who want to know how to keep their clients safe: we’ll cover safeguarding, contracting, professional bodies, insurance, data protection, equality and diversity, and much more.

You can preview the course here or watch the trailer below.

World Triathlon Leeds 2022

June 14th, 2022 | Sport

There are not many things worth getting up at 6am two days in a row. But World Triathlon Leeds is one of them.

Saturday

Saturday was all about the cheering and a big family affair: my dad and sister were in the sprint and my mum and auntie were in the GoTri. We also had two family friends racing and three Harriers: Stu, Hanna and Yvette. I’m terrible at spotting faces so I was pretty pleased that I spotted most of them at the swim exit and on the run. Knowing people’s swim caps and wetsuit brands in advance is a big help.

It was pretty chilly so I had to go home at lunchtime and put some warmer clothes on. I made it back in time to watch the elite race. They changed the course direction this year meaning that they came down the hill on their bike. The result was the bikes came past at 60 kph. The blurs looked lovely, though.

Sunday

I was in the Yorkshire wave at 8:20, which still meant getting up at 5:45. Luckily, there were no queues to enter the park, register or get into transition this year.

We were back to a mass swim start this year so I let the rest of the field go before setting off. It only takes about 50-100 metres before they realise they have gone out way too hard and I start picking them off. By the first buoy, I had found someone’s feet to sit on. It’s different from swimming by yourself as you have to match the accelerations but otherwise felt pretty comfortable. Apparently, I was one of the few athletes that remembered to swim all the way up onto the swim ramp.

T1 was tough. They somehow made it even longer and even though the water was a luxurious 18 degrees, my cold hands failed to get my wetsuit off, even after I sat down. That cost my nearly a minute.

The bike started frantically. You climb up Park Avenue and once I was onto Princess Avenue my top priority was trying to stuff an energy bar into my gob. As a result, I didn’t settle until we reached Street Lane and I had passed the photographer. The bike course was rather windy but I managed to spend most of it on my aero bars. There was a big headwind coming down Stonegate Road and a big tailwind coming up it: as a result, I could descend at a comfortable speed and on the climb, I felt like I was flying. There was plenty of support on the bike course with Harriers at least four different points.

It was not quite a Vincent Luis-style crash but some poor guy went around the outside of the U-turn at the end of lap one and almost ran into a barrier on the far side of the road. On the second lap, I was ready for the photographer having hastily shoved another energy bar in going the other way.

T2 passed without incident. It was annoying to have to run so far in cleats, but JP assumes me that running in bare feet was no more joyful.

The run was the same as last year except in the other direction. This meant a steep climb out of transition (similar to running into town in the old days) but you are then rewarded with a long downhill. I made the strategic version to walk up the hill on the second and third lap. That cost me maybe 10 seconds per time, but also gave me enough recovery to peg it down the hill and I think there was a lot of time to be gained by running downhill effectively. I saw Graeme, Grace, Dan and Rafet on the run course and there was plenty of support on course from both Harriers and my family, too.

As we turned the final corner I was on 43:something and knew I ran a 45:something last year, so figured I might be able to get a run PB. Ths meant sprinting down the hill, but saving enough to look good for the photos.

I finished in:

2:42:43

Good enough for 18th out of 50 in the Yorkshire championship, but not as good as Ali who took second in his first ever standard distance race! Here is how I compared to last year:

Discipline 2022 2021 2019
Swim 34:18 33:34 39:25
T1 6:38 5:44 8:32
Bike 1:13:08 1:13:16 1:19:04
T2 3:58 4:52 4:02
Run 44:43 45:28 46:59
Total 2:42:43 2:42:52 2:58:00

The courses aren’t directly comparable. The 2019 event ran down into the city and the run direction changed between 2021 and 2022. The bike course also changed between 2019 and 2021. That said, I did beat last year’s time by a full 9 seconds! I had no idea until I looked it up later.

Afterwards, we had some lunch and watched the elite mixed team relay. It was freezing cold again but lovely to see the elites up close.

Summary

World Triathlon Leeds is probably one of the best weekend’s of the year. It’s right in the heart of the city so close enough that everyone comes out for it and there is something for everyone from the GoTri races to the elites. I hope Sunderland get as much joy from the event as we have.

Keswick Mountain Festival

May 26th, 2022 | Sport

The Keswick Mountain Festival is the UK’s premier mountain festival. How many mountain festivals are there, though?

I signed up for the 25k. I do not do a lot of hilly running but I thought “even if it is twice as hard as a normal 25k, that would make it a 50k, and I can manage that.” Luckily, it was somewhere in between. It was hard but not in the way I expected. The uphills were fine but the trail was quite technical: a lot of it was rocky or steep gravel descents which meant I was carefully picking where I put my feet.

This meant I was moving slower than I expected. When I signed up I put myself in the sub-3:10 category because I thought I could pretty much walk it in that time and how hard can it be to maintain a walking pace? Well, pretty hard when you’re worried you’re about to go flying. It was unrunnable. And yet, everyone else was running it. I didn’t want to do that because I was worried I would slip. But everyone else just got on with slipping (and they did slip!).

In the second half of the course, it got flatter and less technical and I was able to speed up. I hit the 24k point at around three hours and thought I would probably make it in under 3:10 after all. But the course turned out to be 25.5 km long so when I hit 25 k I could not see the finish. One last push and I crossed the line in:

3:08:38

Good enough for 176 out of 408.

The weather was okay. A little bit of train. In the UK, you sometimes get all four seasons in one day. But in the Lake District, you seem to get all four seasons every day. The route was beautiful with the caveat that I rarely dared to take my eyes off the trail.

I made a video about it that you can watch here:

Zwift Concept bike

May 23rd, 2022 | Sport

After 3.5 years of Zwifting, I’ve finally got my Tron bike.

Eurovision 2022

May 22nd, 2022 | Distractions

Elina laughed when I said Sam Ryder was up to second in the bookie’s odds. Possibly because every year the UK surges in the odds only for our hopes to be cruelly smashed. But not this year!

It really makes you think what could have happened if we had sent good songs this whole time. Instead, we sent James Newman, Electro Velvet and Engelbert Humperdinck.

Let’s enjoy the song one more time:

God’s Own Backyard Ultra

May 21st, 2022 | Sport

A backyard ultra is a type of ultramarathon in which athletes have an hour to run 6,706 meters and get back to the start line for the next lap. If you don’t make it back in time, you’re out. The race goes on until there is only one person left standing; everyone else is a DNF.

I think I originally dismissed the event as being too close to Race to the Castle. But when that got cancelled, and Elenor wouldn’t shut up about it, I decided it was worth another look. By this point, I had already invited a bunch of friends over for a Eurovision party and so I would have to drop out after 11 laps. I said to myself “what’s the point if I can only run 72 kilometres.” Then I heard myself saying it and decided that was probably plenty of running for normal people 😂. And the whole discussion might be academic as I might not make it that far.

The first six laps

If you’re going to go deep at a backyard ultra, the entire first day is basically a warm-up. But it doesn’t feel like that. Probably because, again, three hours of running is a very long run to most people.

I ran the first lap with Kevin who was looking to get his second ultramarathon in the books (which he achieved!). The course heads down the canal and then loops back through Bramley Falls Woods. There is just over 90 metres of elevation gain per lap, which is not horrendously hilly. But for someone like me who mostly trains on the towpath, it’s pretty hilly!

After sussing out the course I switched to my Nike Vaporflys and went out in search of glory. This proved trickier than I imagined: some of the crossroads in the woods left me unsure and it took me a while to spot the red ribbons that guided the way. While experienced trail runners would have zero problems, again towpath-boy over here felt pretty proud that he had successfully navigated a marked course.

I was eating some heavy food at the start: sandwiches, fridge raiders, stuff that I would normally avoid in triathlon but works well in a slightly slower event.

Lap seven

The seventh lap is a nice milestone because it takes you through the marathon distance. Except it didn’t go so well.

Halfway through running through the woods, I tripped and hit the deck. One of the benefits of trail running is that you have nice soft dirt to fall on and so I got away with some grazing of my leg and dirt all over my hands, left leg and left arm. No broken skin or any use for the first aid training I was on last weekend.

It did knock the confidence out of me a little, though, which slowed me down. My energy levels crashed towards the end of the lap so I knew I needed some sugar. This was an issue because I was getting back in 45-50 minutes which gave me 10 minutes for food and a toilet break. But after lap seven I had to fit in washing the dirt off, assessing the grazing on my leg, and eating more than I normally would have on a given lap.

Laps eight and nine

After lap seven I switched to my Hoka Bondi X for some extra-cushioned running. I was tired by this point, though, and kept tripping over more things. No further falls but I started to rattle my confidence.

Then on lap nine, I fell over again. I didn’t go down, but I did roll my right ankle, which is the one I broke in December. For a minute I thought “oh no, it’s all happening again”. But I decided to spend a few minutes sitting in the dirt to see what was going on. The pain went away and I had full functionality of it so luckily I was able to continue running.

A big thank you to everyone who stopped to check on me, help me back to my feet and the marshalls that came to find me. I was back up and walking by this point but I felt well-looked after nonetheless.

Laps ten and eleven

After lap nine I had given myself permission to crack open the caffeine. I only do this when I know I have enough caffeine to maintain the caffeine buzz for the rest of the race. This is usually halfway through the marathon at Ironman but impossible to tell if you were going for the win at the backyard.

The Red Bull tasted so good. I think it perked me up a bit as I stopped tripping over things. That said, I was using a deliberate strategy of pushing a little harder on the towpath and a little easier on the technical descents, to mitigate any issues.

By the end of lap ten, I was eating mostly sugar, not wanting any other fluids or food of any kind, and generally feeling like my stomach was getting tired of this nonsense. It was a warm day so I was drinking twice as much as I usually would but it still did not seem to be enough (but my wee was still a lovely straw colour, so who knows).

Lap eleven was one of mixed feelings. I knew it was my finish line which is always a bit of a boost, but I was also tired, sore and ready to stop.

I think if I didn’t have a deadline, I could have done some more laps. But maybe not too many more: my right hip was sore in the same way that eventually forced me to stop running at Endure24 two years ago. It was definitely more sore at this point back then, but still noticeable enough that I think it would have become an issue down the line.

The end

I completed 11 laps which is officially 73.77 kilometres. Garmin measured less distance which I attribute to GPS in the woods. That’s not quite as far as I did at Endure24, but the longest I’ve done being out on course the whole time (if you discount the short breaks between laps).

At this point, I waddled off home, grabbing as many juice and ice lollies from the shop as I could. I felt grim once I got home and had to sit on the balcony for a bit to avoid growing up. Standard exhaustion/dehydration kind of stuff.

Congratulations to Keith Robson who finished 32 yards. Thank you to all of the organisers and marshalls for putting on a great event! And thank you to the people who brought the ice pops and the chips: it truly is a team sport.