“Doing the IceMan.” Sounds cool, doesn’t it? “All right babes, just off to do the IceMan, no biggie, back later,” I said to no one in particular, flipped down my aviator shades and zoomed off to Surrey like Val Kilmer in an F-14 fighter.
In reality, it wasn’t cool – it was freezing. And very tough indeed. There were 11km and 16km runs on offer, but like some sort of idiot, I went for the duathlon: a 10km run, then 18km mountain bike race, with another 5km run for dessert. You, like me, may be a halfway decent runner keen to branch out with the types of races that you take on. What this one taught me was that being reasonably fast on your feet does not instantly make you speedy in the saddle too.
The race took place on the Army training ground next to the Deepcut barracks in Frimley. There were a few representatives of the Army and Navy Triathlon Associations taking part, and the official charity was Scotty’s Little Soldiers, helping children who have lost a parent in the Armed Forces, but otherwise a military presence was barely noticeable. I could have done with a tank for some of the hills.
You couldn’t miss the dogs, though – dozens of them, barking and straining with significantly more excitement about setting off than some of their owners. The organisers advertised the option of competing with a pet or two, canicross-style, as an unusual selling point. The animals set off in a raucous pack after the straight runners and before the duathlon competitors, and though they rather got in the way on some of the narrower trails, they clearly had a marvellous time.
The IceMan is linked to two other duathlon events in Surrey: the WildMan in November and the MudMan in March. You can compete in all three and earn collective points to become the overall champion if you like. Though I’m assured there’s no connection, with those names there is a strong hint that if you’re the kind of person who does these, you’re also the kind of person tough enough for an Ironman. They would suit runners who want to add some variety to their races, and triathletes who don’t care for the swimming bit, especially in winter.
They’re not cheap though, at £54.50 for the IceMan duathlon, plus another £40 if you want to hire a mountain bike. I have a mountain bike, but it has no suspension and is older than some of the competitors, so I hired one to have something more up to date. You park it in a fenced-off area to collect as fast as you can once the 10k is over with.
I zipped fairly comfortably around the 10k, admittedly without much consideration of how much more there was to come. True to the name of the event, there was ice on some puddles, but it wasn’t too muddy. “Come on boys!” yelled one tough guy as he squelched at top speed through the middle of one bog, rightly disdainful of the rest of us tip-toeing around the edge.
After a flat opening, the hills began. One sequence was clearly designed to make you curse the gods of trail running, sending you up a steep incline then straight back down again, a few yards over, several times. The worst ones were “hilariously” named Climb Hard, Climb Hard 2: Climb Harder and Climb Hard 3: With a Vengeance on non-motivational signs. By the second lap, no one was laughing.
Then came the biking. Three laps of a separate course, nothing too technical, and a few fun, teeth-rattling whooshes down big hills. Aside from a couple of longer rides, my training had consisted of regularly going up and down to the station in the town where I live – very steep one way, but only about a 15-minute ride.
My mistake was thinking that general fitness would allow me to cope easily on the bike. I’d like to blame the heavy hired machine to an extent, but I was SLOW. When the results appeared online later in the day, with separate times for each element of the event, I was shocked to see that my bike time was about 10 minutes slower than almost everyone around me on the leaderboard.
Decent running saved me from total humiliation. During the last 5km I overtook a few of the folks who pedalled past me earlier, and the overall result was respectable enough. “You wonder why you do it, don’t you?” a woman said to me at the finish. “I’ve never felt so much lactate in my legs.”
Would I try it again? Perhaps, but not without investing in a decent mountain bike and spending plenty of training time riding it a bit further than the station.