The Lakesman | Ian’s Story

June 23, 2019 1 By southshieldstri

My first ever full iron distance triathlon “The Lakesman”. What an event and what a weekend.
Training never seems to go to plan, and these were my thoughts on the dive over to Keswick on the
Friday night after picking the kids up from school. “Not swam enough in open water”, “Not been on a
bike in 4 weeks” “Not run a marathon since 2015”, but here I am June 2019 and facing 2.4miles of
swimming, 110 miles on a bike and a marathon all in one go. Go big or go home as they say.
Registration was a breeze, quick British Triathlon license check, name check and handed over was a
new rucksack labeled Full and number 416. This was promptly met with a blank look from me and a
“what do I do now?”. With a brief explanation of what to do with the 3 colored bags, a blue swim cap
(rather obvious that one), a pack of stickers, tattoos and 2 race numbers done, it was out the door to
enjoy one of Keswick’s fine establishments
Checked in to the caravan our accommodation for the weekend, kids settled and out playing by the
river, it was time for a kit preparation and check, and recheck, and recheck and check again. (can of
cider was removed before racking bike)


Saturday and transition is due to open at 13:00. Not before another kit check and loading the car up and preparing my two little machines for their Lakesman mini fun run.  The event area was filling fast with more people registering and talking all things triathlon.  The number of different club hoodies and hats around the place adds to the atmosphere, some people also meeting up for the first time since last year’s Lakesman.

Two different age groups for my boy and girl and the nerves were showing more in her for 400m than me for the big race the next day.  The fun run was a welcome distraction for what was coming up and to see all the other mini Lakesman from 4 years and up gave some light relief to me and the other parents/competitors in the finish area.


Storming performances from them both Boy 4th overall in the 10-15 age group and Girl first overall in the 7-9 age group. Just a fun run but there is nothing better than watching people archive there potential inspiring me, after I hope I inspire them.

13:00 transition opened and it was time to rack my bike. Kit check by the British Triathlon Official “You have forgotten something!” bike ok, helmet on, stickers in place, I am starting to panic what could it be?  Looking perplexed he finally responded with “Smile, a smile this is supposed to be fun” and with that am ushered in.

The jungle that is transition was tamed by the army of volunteers, almost taking you by the hand, showing you where to hang your bags, which direction to take to your assigned bike rack and back etc.  My thoughts were, get this over as quick as possible you can’t check your kit anymore if it’s not there now, I don’t need it.  Get it done get out and relax. Some pleasantries were exchanged with other competitors but also bumping into an NE31 team member in transition area helped with the tension even more.  I am not the only mad one here from the other side of the Pennies.

Final formality of the day was race briefing, filing into the beefing area with 250 other competitors brings back the nerves.  Looking for a vacant seat next to someone who does not look like the missing sibling of the Brownlee brothers proves a little difficult. Eventually a spot out the way at the edge will do.  I am sure I heard all the rules and information but not much of it goes in when sitting, looking around and thinking in anticipation of what you and all those other people in the tent are about to embark on the next day. With that a call goes out “Time for the budgie smugglers”

With that the tent empties and I found myself down at the boat launch of Derwent water in just my trainers and the wildest pair of Budgie Smuggler underpants I own.  Not a dream but with about 100 other race competitors, men women and children all in budgie smuggler attire and kazoo’s in hand ready to perform a cross between a New Zealand Maori war dance and the Icelandic Thunderclap to ward off the Derwent Water Kraken followed by run up the bank back to transition and down the finishing straight hopefully to find my clothes to cover my non Brownlee style body. (will spare you pictures but a quick google will find it).   This has become some what of a tradition for the Lakesman in the 4 short years it has been going.

Early to bed that night early start the next day. Not before the can of cider removed from my bike is slow sipped to steady my nerves while watch one of my favorite films Deadpool.  I used his mantra a lot though the next 24hours “maximum effort”.

03:30 and the alarm goes off, its race day.  Coffee, breakfast more coffee, I need that final run to the toilet before we leave to event start. We park up along with the other competitors and family members who are crazy enough to be there just after 5 in the morning and begin the walk to the event center wetsuit down to waists, proudly showing off our club colours.  A final kit checks (one more can’t do any harm) in transition and mount the Garmin on the bike, wetsuit lube applied, and suit zipped up its time to race.


The slow walk down to the water began with nervous chatter between competitors.  One guy, who thankfully who looks more like me than a Brownlee bother, stops me, takes one look and whilst remarking “your look scary” pats me on the chest with a sticker “Don’t be S*^t”. Another wave of emotion passes over me remembering all the other times South Shields Tri coaches and team members have said this to me in the past.

Down into the water but not before the two main race organizers personally stop, shake the hand and wish good luck to everyone as they go by.  A great personal touch which brings the heart rate down just that lilt bit.  15.4 deg they said feels more like 2 and I work in the arctic circle.  Acclimatization goes well, wink wink, and with plenty of time to look back ashore and wave the family before ducking my head under again.

06:00 siren goes and almost 300 like minded people take their first strokes on their way to 2.4mile.  The usual taps and touches not quite kicks and punches occur until the first marker buoy, by which time I have found my space and rhythm with the people around me.  Head down keep going just get this swim out the way without sinking and you can survive the rest is all that is going through my head, maximum effort, don’t be s*^t.

The sighting drills learned in the pool only 5 days before are working well and I don’t seem to be wandering off course too much.  Taking it one buoy at a time, the time ticks away.  I have no idea how well or poor I am doing, but there are others around me so I should be ok, I hope.  In the next breath that 2h10 cut of time must be coming up soon and I can’t see the finish.  My panic his heightened by my swim cap popping off.   Do I get DQ’ed if I don’t have my hat???? Panic. In a split second, I stop and retrieve it. Ram it down my wetsuit and carry on.

What’s that? It’s the boat landing I am almost there. Kick quick and get the blood flowing again, standing up with a helping hand from a volunteer before falling back into the water as all the blood drains from my ice bock of a skull. 1hr 26min 45s and I am not last.


Up the orange carpet past all the spectators and the first glimpse of my family fan club since starting.  The wife was taking pictures, my boy running alongside me and my two girls huddled under my dry robe blanket trying to keep warm at the side.  The support gave me a massive lift into transition.  More helpful volunteers guided me to my bags, get a seat and helped me to get my wetsuit off.  My thoughts turn to do I need my arm warmers? which of the 2 pairs of gloves do I use?  Too much kit? Not enough? Should I have packed my rain jacket? Do I need to lube up again? In the end, I opt for cycle top over my tri suit and take my small pot of Vaseline with me just in case.  Socks and shoes on, still not sure how as I can’t feel my fingers and toes, and it was out the tent to try and locate my bike.

Out on the bike, I realize its all gone quiet.  There is no music, no announcer, no cheering crowds just me and other racers on their bikes heading out of Keswick.  Its time to get my head down and enjoy a part of the race I feel I have some control over.  Get some food inside me, take on fluids and even overtake a couple of people as we settle in for the long haul.  The new strategy seemed to fall into place. Anything over 20 miles per hour let it freewheel, I am going to need these legs to get me through the run.  This works well for me, trying to use the lowest gear possible to keep the power levels steady.


As the miles tick over my confidence grows that I am going to complete the longest ever ride I have attempted.  The route is perfect with no major climbs and the effort put in by the race organizers to close roads and junction etc. makes it even more pleasant and safer ride.  Each volunteer passed gives a cheer, and a very out of breath thanks in return from me. Maximum effort, don’t be s*^t.

Chaffing, ohh that burns.  Do I keep going till the next feed station or stop now to lube up?? The next one it is I don’t want to lose time.  The next feed station I pass straight though collecting some more fluids and snacks and then ask myself the same question again.  This continued for the full length of the course. I will find out if this is a good plan or not later in the shower.

Before I know it, I hit the 80miles and it’s is now the longest ride I have ever completed.  The rain has stayed away, and the wind has not been too bad but a 10 mile an hour drop when doubling back on the route in the opposite direction is impacting my time.  The 80mile mark gives me my confidence back, only 30 miles to go, maximum effort, don’t be s*^t.

I start to see places I recognize and suddenly Keswick looms out of the trees and I was almost there.  The traffic increases but so does the noise, I can hear people cheering in the distance, cow bells rattling and the announcer naming people as they finish the bike and the half distance runs.  Head on now for the run. As I round the last corner before the run into T2 I get out of my bike shoes ready for the flying dismount off the bike like them Brownlee’s I want to be and start to look for the familiar faces of my support crew.  They are there 200mtr from transition almost surprised to see me as I am happy to see them.  Somehow, they have even picked up a couple of South Shields Harriers who just happened to be in the lakes the same day.

The flying dismount doesn’t happen (it was never going to) but stopped and got off well before the line, don’t want a DQ at this stage.  6hr 18min 10s

With the bike racked again into the tent, I went, and those questions come back again.  Do I change to run kit? What food do I take? Do I lube up again? Where are all the other bags gone? am I that slow everyone else has gone home already? They were the half competitors and the full distance are still there, I was still in the game. Change of socks, trainers on and out I went (lube in the pocket if needed).  T2 transition as I found out later went quicker than the support crew making it to the next vantage point as I am out on the run before they make it down.

Out on the first of 5 laps of the run course not knowing where it takes you or what it’s like I took a wrist band just after the feed station signifying my first loop. The noise of the main crowd ringing in my ears people calling your name as it's printed on your number.  “Go on Ian” “Go on South Shields” as the course winds its way along the paths and through the town. I got onto the part of the course known as the highway of hell. A length of road about ¾ mile long you traverse 4 times on each lap. I find the going well and I feel good in myself, with a glance down at my watch I am averaging 8:30 per mile which is well quicker than my target pace so I can ease off and my confidence is at an all-time high. 


With about 1 mile to go on the first lap I encountered the biggest hill in the Lake District that day.  Having some experience of long distance running and with 21 miles left go this is defiantly a walk hill.  I slowed right up to take the hill and then pick the speed up again as I went over the top.  Confidence still growing. This sounded like a big hill but it more of a bump in the road on normal day.

First lap almost complete and I can see the family again and their shouts and cheers can be heard more over the rest it seems.  “Go on the Sandancer” “go on Stevas” wait who is that? I don’t know you, why are you shouting at me? How do you know I am a Sandancer? How do you know my name? You’re from Rochdale who are you? Wave politely and carry on a little quicker.

Lap 2 starts with a grab of some fluids from the aid station and another wrist band.  I make it to the highway of hell again and the urge to walk kicks in again.  This is fine as I am doing well, and the run walk was always in my strategy.  As I approach the end of lap two the run walk is becoming more of a walk walk shuffle and the wheels are starting to come off.  As I run through the crowed on the finishing straight (can’t be walking in front of the family) I am spurred on again by “go on the Sandancer”  who is this guy I still don’t know who you are but I will take the support from anywhere at this point.

As I collected my third band not only have the wheels fallen off big style, but the engine management system is stating to fail.  For the first time during the race thoughts of not completing it come into my head.  I still have over half the distance to go and my average speed is down to somewhere near 14 minutes, but I can’t be sure as I can’t focus very well on my watch.  Where can I rest? is there any way to cut a corner? I done this much its enough? 

The only way I was going to get though this was as much liquid and my power food fresh orange.  Thankfully the support and items at the aid stations of which there are 5 on the run route were well stocked and everyone gave you that little push each time.  Every so often another competitor would quietly give you a boost as I shuffled past them or them me knowing fine well, we were all in such a dark place together.


End of lap 3 the stranger has gone I was looking for him.  Head down run passed the family quads burning, who was now settled in the same spot “go on Stevas go on the Sandancer” there he is just further down the road this time, but it gives me some light relief from the pain

As lap 4 started with an extended aid station stop, more water, more isotonic more orange segments the pain in my legs was starting to worsen.  Hard to walk and even harder to run.  Thinking of anything else I could to forget the pain, I started to count the numbers. How many feed stations to go? How many more passes along the highway of hell?  I don’t think I ever got the correct answer to any of the questions, but it helped pass the time.  Before I knew it “go on the Sandancer” again I was handed my last wrist band, I was on my final lap. Maximum effort don’t be s*^t.

The answer to the questions became easier. 3 then 2 then 1 loop of the highway of hell. 3 then 2 then 1 more feed station.  As I exited the highway of hell for the last time, I overheard a fellow competitor say they were on their last lap as well.  Que competitive edge and my walk walk shuffle turned into more of a run walk.  Not too quick I need a sprint finish in the legs at the end, but not sure where the energy has come from.

As I entered the final 200m I was met coming the other way by my boy and older girl. Unlike some lesser branded iron events (Lakesman words not mine) your family can complete the final finish carpet run with you if you don’t impede other runners.  I slowed just a little bit more with 20m to go to let the kids get ahead of me.  Then BANG last push sprint past them both and across the line (can let them beat the old man just yet)


Run completed 4hr 31min 37s.

All the pressure I had put on myself, all the training, all the pain gone in an instant, I had completed it a full iron distance triathlon.

The moments after completing the event are mostly a blur.  I did get to meet with my now surrogate support team and my number 2 fan team that day I was greeted with “well done the Sandancer”.   The family from Rochdale who had been there as part of their team had been speaking to my wife and when they found out I was the only SST member taking part took me on as one of their own.  The help and support from them was great.

Rochdale support was only second to a person who I mentioned very little of.  My wife who had put up with the hours upon hours of a lost husband during my training, My mood swings and my constant questioning of which I knew she would not know the answer too (which gloves do I wear, when shall I lube etc.).  More so the hours over the weekend looking after our 3 kids one on which spent most of the weekend on her shoulders dripping ice cream in her hair.

Without her and the kids, the support of the South Shields Tri and South Shields Harriers coaches and my fellow SST family I would never have heard those words

“Ian Stephenson you ARE a Lakesman”  

Finish time 12hr 29min 52s

P.s I did find the chaffing later in a shower and they stung. Pain killers (cider) helps.  Maximum effort don’t be s*^t