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European Triathlon Champs 26th june 2011

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Swim: 26min 27sec

T1: 1min 55sec

Bike: 60min 22sec

T2: 1min 16sec

Run: 36min 45sec

Overall: 2hr 04min 50sec

Position: 2ndin age group, 13thoverall, (fastest bike split of the day)


The bike was packed five days before flight departure on Thursday 23rdand all the kit was repacked twice to be absolutely sure nothing was missing, checking carefully to my master checklist compiled over the last couple of years. I was also leaving nothing to chance, taking my own wholemeal pasta, goji berries, nuts, porridge and honey. First challenge was the 7.25am flight from Heathrow and the family were up at 4am and straight into the ready packed and fuelled car. 30mins later Helen was handing me the car jack following a front driver side puncture at 70mph. We had to unpack the whole car to get to the spare tyre and as we had only bought the car three months earlier, I could not remember if it had a space saver or full sized spare – this was key, space saver meant no chance of making check in…what a relief to wind down a full sized wheel. 70mph saw us arrive at the short stay car park (something must have told me to not mess around and book this one) with 75mins to takeoff, 10min walk and a relief to see check in was open and the bike and all luggage was safely loaded onto the plane. Racing will be easy after this…

After a change of planes in Madrid and many peanut butter sandwiches we touched down in Vigo, an hour from our hotel. The bike arrived safe and sound and the tyres, let down by circa 50% had not reacted to any changes in pressure. Next was a one hour drive to the hotel, giving me time to assemble the bike and then drive 30min into Pontevedra for the allotted swim practice time in the estuary race course. The hotel was fantastic with pools, slides, jets and waterfalls, the children’s dream. Assembling the bike all seemed to go well until tightening the headset. I just could not get it tight. The team bike mechanics were at a hotel about 5mins drive away so whizzed down there to find that they had recently decamped to return to a Pontevedra hotel and planned not to return. By now I had my race face back on, Helen and the family stood aside as my wetsuit and goggles were thrown into the car with the bike and I headed into the city. The hotel was impossible to find and parking was a disaster. Finally I persuaded a local who knew as much English as I did Spanish (Adios con leche…. drat… good bye with milk….) and we found the hotel, parked illegally in a commercial unloading area and I found Dan the mechanic. He was great and said to come back in an hour and all will be solved. Excellent, just enough time to run down to the river and do the swim before the course shut. The water was hot, about 22 degrees, would they ban wetsuits?..Being only an average swimmer that would be awful for my swimming. There seemed a bit of current in the river, coming in, and this practice session was meant to simulate the tide for our race start time of 8am. Taking my wetsuit back to the car, two motorbike policemen were in the process of writing a ticket. My fluent lack of Spanish frustrated them sufficiently to render the paperwork superfluous and I drove off to try and dump the car somewhere else. Dan the mechanic told me the bike was perfect apart from the colour (sorry Henry!) and that I should pay extra for him having to touch it. I think he liked it really! All seemed in great working order.

Friday morning, I cycled what I thought was half the bike course at 6.30am just after dawn – Surprisingly I was the only one out on the course and I was surprised how hilly the out and back course was. Lack of traffic meant I could practice the roundabouts near the start and finish a few times and the early start meant I was back in time for breakfast with the family. In all my previous races, the race briefing was circa 10 minutes before the start. Therefore meeting the rest of the GB team in a hotel in the centre of the city for the briefing on Friday afternoon, a day and a half before the event was new. Consistent with the rest of the organisation and information leading up to the event, certain details were still changing and others were still unclear. It was good to hear that calf guards, not allowed last month were now allowed again. It was still difficult to conclude on the exact course for the run, were we going into the stadium on each lap, or not? And the bike was a two lap out and back…oh so I had cycled all of it this morning then, not half of it! The Spanish Local Organisation Committee came into much criticism for this are other vagueness. The best example being at 6pm the night before the race when preparation for all athletes competing in this endurance event queued in 36 °C for two hours as only two marshals were body marking us with race numbers. Some I understand were queuing for more than 3 hours. At least while queuing we got to see the elite athletes race in the river beside and we received updates on the bike section over the PA. The scenery was absolutely stunning though and with the excitement of the event, most of the ‘organisation’ washed over me.

Back at the hotel, having had problems with diet in a couple of races this year, I was taking no chances and had my whole wheat pasta pesto at 9pm and in bed by 9.30pm. Then up at 3.30am for porridge, honey, apple and banana and Sherlock Holmes the movie (rather than going back to bed like at Windsor)! Family woke up to cups of tea at 6am and off to the race site 30mins away. With my brother living in Lisbon and my mother and father visiting I had an enviable entourage (eight strong) and it was a welcome distraction to have them together with another athlete, Pete, who I had met at Shropshire to chat to and take photos on the bridge overlooking the start. Water temp was just a fraction below 23 °C and wetsuits were allowed.

My wave was 4thoff from the pontoon and was an out and back swim, upstream first. Plan was to try and stay on Shropshire Pete’s toes for as long as poss. This unfortunately was about 20m, however soon other toes appeared and I managed to trail feet most the way around. Feeling comfortable-ish most the way I tried to push passed the pair of toes but struggled so fell back for the easier ride and concentrated on technique, staying as close to the toes as possible and wondering how fast the swim had been. Was I around 23 mins again? – don’t think so, as long as it was below 25min that was fine. Out of the water quick glance at watch saw the time turning 24mins – that was fine (official time much slower so must have included a chunk of transition). A mega long transition followed and I was surprised how fast everyone was running with me making no inroads. Found my bike and annoyingly had a fumble with the helmet and got my ear folded so had to redo helmet – drat 10 seconds lost.

Next my high risk bit….onto the bike and a nice landing on the pedals, great, feet in and I was off to lots of family cheers. First 10k of bike was undulating but predominantly uphill with a significant climb towards the end rising 300m. 10mins in realised I was going well and pushed hard, no stomach problems. Knowing my rivals were circa 170 to 230 race numbers, I enjoyed picking off several on the first climb. Felt even better and rose out of the saddle for the final quarter of a mile of the climb to give the legs a change. Then pleased to see Pete just in front and went past him, it had taken me till the end of the bike to pass him at Shropshire. I was absolutely knackered by the top, only a quarter through the bike, but confident of a swift recovery on the downhill section, I touched 48mph on the initial steep section. Drat Pete came past me on the downhill, first person to pass me. Kept regulation distance behind him till the next undulation and pushed past him again. The roads were fantastic, completely closed, some dual carriageway and the rest A roads. Soon the buildings of Pontevedra were coming back into sight and I pushed on to look good for the family. Just approaching 30mins at the turnaround, great this was feeling good, then round a 1km loop section over two bridges and out again for the second lap. Pushing as hard as I could on the hill passed lots more and a few of the vital numbers. How many more were in front? Pete did not pass me again and I gave it everything up and downhill, hugging the edge of the road for shelter from the sun wherever possible. I had drunk two bottles, hydration must be fine, but was still feeling very hot. Not the same temperature as last night but must be high 20s already. 59mins on the clock and approaching transition, great, consistent lap times. Another sloppy transition though as I ran to the wrong lamppost (my cunning marker for my bike position), back 10metres again to rack my bike in the right place, I took a spare SIS bottle from my crate and sipped it for 100m before ditching it.

The run was 4 laps of a stunning route into the athletics stadium and out around the old city. Very old buildings, narrow streets lined with granite buildings, fortunately big enough to offer some protection from the sun, but four hills… The dog leg in the stadium gave a chance to look 300m ahead in the field and an Estonian was ahead. My legs were heavier than normal at the start, was this going to be payback for pushing too hard on the cycle? End of lap one, I had passed several similar kitted athletes, had I over taken the right Estonian, or was it a Spaniard? (I am colour blind, keep running) I overtook another Spaniard, he took me back and started to pull away, drat, he was strong and he quickly had 20m over me. Lap two was harder, the family were spread out and shouting madly, one water bottle over the head and a few gulps at both aid stations on the lap and still feeling a bit average. Later I understand the family were concerned for me, I was not looking good. Drat not even half way yet. The Spaniard was holding 30m or so in front now. Into the stadium again and I saw he had a low 1xx number and he peeled off to finish in the home straight, great not my age group! Into lap 3 I felt better, much better and was now constantly picking up people, though none of my age group. Passing the GB team hotel was a great spot with loads of encouragement at the top of a nasty little hill, three of them done one to go. Dad was starting to get very excited, but none of them were telling me where I was in the field, why not??? Later I found out they did not know as they had not clocked the race number ranges and too many were wearing leg guards covering their age group marking. Start of the last lap I came across Ashley, another new best friend, a GB guy an age group or two lower than me, got to know him very well in the queue yesterday. He pushed hard and I hung onto him. Down the hill, 5mins to go I stretched out, was feeling almost good now and having a respectable last lap, into the stadium there were no key numbers in front that I could see and none behind, so held my form to the line imagining the track sessions, 300m, 200, 100, finished, 2hr 04min something… that was hard. I was certain with the conditions and hills that this was not a fast course so felt that was my best effort.

There were not many runners finished, where had I come..? Oh no, there was a German with a 224 race number, rats never saw his bike during my mess up in transition. Not finding any other numbers in my range could I possibly have come second? Absolutely over the moon, found the family outside and had a beer within 30mins of the finish. It didn’t taste as good as I hoped, more water first….

I later found out the German finished his swim taking a 4min lead over me into the bike…..I nearly cleared the deficit with the best bike split of the day. Two good transitions and he could have been in sight, but then I guess something else would have had to give.

Speaking to people after the race, most were 8 to 12mins slower than their Shropshire times, mine was only 6mins. Pleased I had done everything possible, the chips, steak, wine, beer, crepes and the medal ceremony were all great. With a Union Jack at the podium I managed to splay it nicely half covering the German for the photos!

Thanks to everyone who have helped make this dream come true – to all my sponsors, Trilogie Corporate Real Estate, Bishop Fleming, Clarke Willmott, London and Devonshire Trust and Wyndy Milla. Added to this list, Ben Kilner for emergency physio at the drop of a hat and Lotte Carritt for weekly sports massage, Andy Bruce for persuading me last year to actually try and qualify for the race. And of course, my unfair advantage of the biggest family support out there, more than even the Spanish.

What next? This was my A race for the year and my goal last October was to be first GB of my age group home, and that only if I could make the start line following my bulging disc in my back. I have exceeded all my expectations. One more race is booked, the Property Triathlon in 10 days time. I have qualified for World Championships in Beijing but funding is going to be an issue. Decision deferred for a week or two…!</p>