By Mark Smoothy.
Mark ‘Sharky’ Smoothy is a triathlon icon, having raced, written and organised events for decades. He’s also been the driving force behind ‘Smiling for Smiddy’. But life has thrown him another, albeit desired, curveball; a beautiful wife and young child! So what do you do when it dawns on you that continuing a life that allowed you to chase the endless summer of triathlon may no longer be possible? You go out with a bang! Here’s Mark’s account of his ‘final fling’ at long course racing; three epic events across three countries, in three consecutive weekends.
Thirty three years in this delightful sport of ours lead me to tackle, what possibly was – actually it definitely was – my hardest, yet surely dumbest triathlon challenge ever! Why would anyone subject themselves to two extreme iron-distance events across two countries, Scotland and Switzerland in seven days, then finish with a warm down event over the iron-distance event of Challenge Roth in Germany just seven days later?
Okay the short answer is this: I met a girl at 50 years of age, got married at 52, and had a baby girl at 54, so it’s time to be the best dad I can possibly be. But go out on a high. Take on above stupid idea! Boom!
June 16 Celtman Extreme Iron distance Triathlon in Scotland
3.4km Swim / 200km Bike /42.2km Run
Celtman Should Be Renamed Wetman!
Celtman Extreme Scottish Triathlon was held in Northern Scotland in the idyllic seaside and mountainous town of Torridon. I arrived the day before race day for the compulsory briefing, extremely jet lagged from the thirty plus hours of travel required to get from Australia to Scotland and overjoyed to hear the organisers predict good conditions for race day but with a few isolated showers.
Well let me begin this race report by saying just this; if thirteen plus hours of rain, a water temperature of ten degrees, persistent headwinds and an average air temperature of ten degrees that I endured throughout my near on eighteen hour effort is ‘isolated showers’, then I would hate to see what a bad day of rain in Scotland brings!
A Day Of Being Wet And Cold
To be brutally honest, Celtman 2018, was without doubt, the hardest but most rewarding event I have ever completed in my entire life. The water in the swim, coupled with the constant rain and wind on the bike, had numbed my hands so severely, that for the remaining one hundred kilometres, each time I needed to eat, I had to stop so that my compulsory support person in Russell O’Malley could feed me!
But by far, the marathon was worse. From the stress of just making the cutoff time at the eighteen kilometre point by a mere ten minutes, to then being so cold as the run traversed up and over mountainous rocky, ankle-spraining terrain, where the rain began anew in earnest; rendering me a shivering mess that no amount of compulsory survival gear would help abate.
Not content with the conditions making things difficult, the ‘local’ fauna added to the challenge; blood sucking midgies! They attacked anything that resembled skin. For two weeks after the race I scratched each bite a million times, often waking myself up scratching and swearing out loud that all midgies should be ordered to leave Scotland immediately and move to the North Pole! Why the North Pole? Because I never intend to visit there!
Throughout the day I saw glimpses of the incredible natural raw scenic beauty that this event is famous for. But unfortunately the weather was so bad that it was often shrouded in thick moist clouds or rolling dense mist. A bit like how my mind felt at the time. I would love to have done this event on a spectacular clear day…
190 – Starters
173 – Finishers
11:39:48 – Winner, Harry Wiltshire
14:05:25 – Winner, Mirjam Allik
17:27:07 – Shark time
7 – Editions Of Celtman
10 -Water temperature!
2 Million – Jelly Fish. I stopped counting after that!
72 – Midgie bites on my body after!
June 23 Swissman Extreme Iron distance Triathlon in Switzerland
3.8km Swim / 180km Bike / 42.2km Swim
5000 Metres Of Climbing – Not For the Faint Hearted
Six days to recover from Celtman… what was I thinking? The course at Switzerland was equally as brutal as the race in Scotland, but different brutal! The relatively balmy eighteen degree point to point swim was easy enough. The bike was altogether different. Three major climbs that saw us complete more than 4000 metres in total of climbing on the bike. The marathon was equally ridiculous; finishing at 2050 metres, with 1500 metres of altitude gain for the marathon. A 5000 metre day of climbing is not easy on fresh legs, yet alone on old decrepit legs that have just completed an eighteen hour event the weekend prior. But that’s what I signed up for right?
No use complaining then, suck it up and get on with it hey? Which is exactly what I, along with my compulsory support person in Robert Boyd did. Don’t ask me how, but I felt amazing on the swim, got through the first two climbs on the bike, before I blew to smithereens on the third climb, then totally had nothing for the entire marathon, which, while brutal in its never ending climbs and descents, was merely teasing you for its epic finality; the valley town of Grindelwald the real ‘pain-train’ began.
The final nine kilometres to the finish line at the ski resort of Kleine Scheidegg, saw an altitude gain of over a thousand metres; insane and totally unheard of in any other triathlon around the world. It was brutality at its worst best!In the end we got there, but man I went through a world of hurt.
11:23:00 – Winner, Michal Rajca of Poland
12:28:00 – Winner, Flora Colledge of England
17:55:27 – Shark Time
6 – Editions of Swissman
19 – Water temperature
July 1 Challenge Roth Iron distance event in Germany
3.8km Swim / 180km Bike / 42.2km Run
Sickness and Fear Can Conquer Any Prep
My biggest fear in conquering this three race challenge was getting sick or injured. I escaped the injury part but sickness descended upon me two days after Swissman. For four days I was bedridden. The fifth day I was well enough to register for Roth. The next day I toed the start line with the other 3050 participants. Fifteen hours was the cutoff for Roth. Sure I had my doubts. What sane person wouldn’t? But once again, as soon as I started the swim, I knew my body and mind were up for the challenge of a third Iron distance event in fourteen days. I simply felt in control and strong for all three legs for the twelve hours and forty two minutes that I was out there racing.
Roth is a much quicker course, conditions were ideal except for the strong winds on the bike, but I was still amazed I could do that time with the past two events still in my legs. It was my quickest time over the Iron distance in five years and nine past Iron distance events. Go figure…
Each of the three triathlons had their own positive merits. Without a doubt I have no hesitation in saying get out there and experience them. The two extreme triathlons will test you like you have never been tested before, both mentally and physically. The stunning scenery is worth the entry fee alone. Whilst Challenge Roth is the biggest, most exciting race on the planet – no question about that – thanks to the amazing support from in excess of 200,000 spectators.
I was overjoyed that my race goal was completed. My thoughts turned to home. Thirty two hours of travel to Australia and into the arms of my two beautiful girls. Four weeks apart from them was more painful than anything I put myself through in those events.
07:46:23 – Winner, Sebastion Kienle of Germany
8:43:42 – Winner, Daniella Saemmler of Germany
12:42:14 – Shark Time
35 – Editions of Challenge Roth
20 – Water Temperature
Sharky’s Final Words
I get asked all the time; Why? Why? Why? Swissman, Celtman, Norseman (insert your event here) athletes have been building up to for their entire lives, even if they do not know it. Physical and mental tests like this do not come along often in life. These tests are good for the mind, good for the soul. Gets the normality of life out of your system. It is what drives most endurance athletes. It’s getting back to when we roamed free and lived off the land. That drive to overcome anything that stands in our way, to succeed at all costs, the desire never to give in. It’s within us all, but the the modernity of our lives has softened us and made us lazy, and it’s challenges such as this that awaken what is internally hardwired into the very fabric of our beings, the person that we are all meant to be! I like to tap into that emotion occasionally, for it is what keeps me sane.