Becoming a Monster

Here Kat Cook talks through her training for her A race of the year: The Monster Triathlon – reputed to be the UK’s Toughest Triathlon. She gives an honest review of how she came to this extreme event and how she deals with the highs and lows that the sport throws our way.

Monster Triathlon was first mentioned on the train ride to Copenhagen airport, having just completed my first ironman. It began as a question of what we could do next that was bigger, yet different to, an ironman. The others quickly dropped the idea but it was already implanted in my brain and so I started to research the 5k swim, 1000km bike and 50km run event and within 2 weeks (having gained permission from my head teacher for leave) I was booked on! I knew I needed a goal to keep up the fitness that I had gained over the past 12 months preparing for the ironman and I also needed a purpose for the training and a challenge, and this event seemed perfect. However, in October I ran in the Abingdon marathon, well I ran to about 32kms and then hobbled is a more realistic term for the final 10.1kms. I assumed it would be like all the other injuries I had sustained over the past couple of years and went to physio, had some sports massages and made sure I iced and rested. By New Year I was swimming and biking according to my own “plan” and I spent the holidays out in Germany where I gradually re-introduced running. It was slow and short and built up gradually and I was optimistic it was all going well. However, the pain on the outside of my knee began to reoccur and so I sporadically kept going with the physio exercises, kept swimming and reduced the biking and did no running. Deep down I knew it was not all going well and so I signed up for a training camp in Portugal with TTH with the hope that this would give me the answers I needed. Portugal was incredible and a huge challenge for me. I was not where I wanted to be fitness wise and I had to push myself hard both mentally and physically to overcome obstacles that week, but it paid off. I enjoyed the biking and grew in confidence with my bike handling skills. I had a detailed analysis of my swim and run technique that gave me some really useful, specific areas to work on and drills to be able to do this and I was introduced to S&C… How could I have gotten to this age and not known about it! At this point I knew I needed someone to help me to plan the final months of training preparation for Monster and ensure that I had guidance on introducing me to core strength and conditioning exercises, enter coach Soraya!

The final months of preparation were more structured through training peaks and I was determined to make every session green; one of my biggest learning points was gained here when I refused to listen to my body and kept going on a run session, ultimately leading to more physio and a question mark over whether I would be able to complete the final day of the event at all. Within two weeks of the event start I was struggling with this decision and Soraya gave me 3 options - option chosen I was ready to make the journey to Scotland!

It was a 7-day event, beginning with a 5km swim in Loch Ness immediately followed by a 50km ride to Fort William. The next 5 days would all be on the bike to end up in Windsor (Slough really!) covering 950km to make it a total of 1000km cycle. The final day was a 50km run along the River Thames into Richmond. On Sunday 23rd June at 9:30am I was on the banks of Loch Ness wondering what the week had in store for me. I had been most excited for the swim (definitely my strength), yet the conditions that morning were not the best, a very strong wind creating waves combined with the cold-water temperatures meant it was tougher than I had expected. A very strong undertow resulted in the 500m course being shortened for safety on only my 4th lap of 10. It was hard to stay focused on anything as I swung my arms around trying to ignore the cold permeating every inch of me and struggling to sight over the waves. However, an hour and 43minutes later I stumbled out of the water happy with my efforts, although unable to hold anything at all, despite the neoprene gloves! This was definitely my lowest moment of the whole event, struggling to change and concerned about how I was going to make it through the next hour, let alone the next 6 and a half days.

However, I was soon onto the bike and determined to get warm, I set off for Fort William. The stunning views and smooth roads soon had me enjoying myself and as I arrived at the hotel to a small welcome party of the organising team, I was ready to take on the rest of the challenge. The Monster team were incredible, there were just 17 of us doing the full 7 days and they catered for us remarkably well. Day bags were available at various feed stations throughout the day, all our hotel bags were always in rooms ready for our arrival and the feed stations themselves were plentiful. It was great food and tailored to any of our requests (I wish all bike events had feed stations like this!) so all I needed to focus on was the biking.

Personalised aid stations

Personalised aid stations

Sam (event organiser) had devised the most stunning routes possible on our journey, the Scottish countryside is hard to beat, even on a grey cloudy day Glen Coe is impressive and the Lochs gave a sparkling edge to our journey to Glasgow. The next 2 days were my personal favourites with incredible sweeping descents (I often manage to forget the ascents) and a combination of rolling hills and little kickers combined with the Scottish and Lake District rural scenery, all of which was rivalled only by the feeling of camaraderie. It was the group riding that made the 200km a day fly by, not only being able to jump on a wheel at times for a ‘rest’ but the conversations and banter meant that I never got any low moments (I had definitely been preparing myself for these in the months leading up to this).

On the penultimate day of cycling I definitely struggled, my feet swelling and painful in the heat made the last 32kms of a 188km day a ‘dig deep’ moment, luckily this was made easier by my newly found cycling buddies who continued to ride with me and ignored my grumbling, getting me to the hotel where a feature fountain became my foot bath and my recovery drink was a gin and tonic!

At the end of 1000km of biking celebrations were limited as thoughts turned to the run section. I knew I wanted to attempt it; in my head I had worked out I could walk it in 8 hours – how early could I start? 5:45am saw me leaving the travel lodge in Slough and walking to the Thames Path in Eaton Dorney. I knew this was going to be tough, 32 degrees heat forecast for the hottest part of the day and I didn’t really want to be walking. I began to jog, I settled into a pace and I kept it going until I felt the ITB tighten around my knee and I dropped it back to a walk. I kept this pattern going and when the others started to run past, I expected to have to deal with a feeling of disappointment. However, everyone that passed slowed to have a chat and it just buoyed me up. Two feed stations down and over half way completed, the heat had intensified, it was about keeping hydrated and cool, a few additional water top ups in cafes and pubs along the Thames (I had not practiced this distance and carrying hydration at all) made this easy. By the final feed station, I was on a high, video messages from my family had come through to me and I was feeling strong. The final 6kms I was literally bouncing along, I crossed the line with an excited leap into the air - 50km completed in under 7 hours, whilst not a ‘run’ I had done it and more importantly I was still walking! I was officially a MONSTER! The finish line was full of families and friends and as each monster came over the line, each of the 17 that started it and finished it together was there with hugs and a sense of being in our own special group. This was a unique event that challenged me physically and mentally and also created incredible shared memories and friendships.

Now that is an unexpected finishing photo after traversing two countries!

Now that is an unexpected finishing photo after traversing two countries!

For me, any event and the training leading up to it are centred around people; it is my interactions with everyone I meet on the journey and during the event that inspire me and push me to keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I am driven and stubborn and know what I want to achieve and what I believe I am capable of, but when I am in my lowest moments it is conversations and little pieces of advice that have come from all those various people that give me the energy to get my head down and keep going with a smile (sometimes it might resemble more of a grimace)…oh and the jelly babies! I am currently searching for my next challenge; in the meantime, my focus is on injury recovery and resetting my body to make it stronger and less likely to become injured in the future; there is still a lot I need to learn!