European Duathlon Championships, Ibiza 2018
My last race. I had been wishing this day to come, not because it was the European Duathlon Championships in Ibiza but because I desperately wanted to stop running having developed tendonapathy in my heel in May that meant pain whilst running and searing pain post run, the physio said okay, but I had had enough.
A fabulous location for the European Championships in Santa Eulalia, a town for holiday makers that was now swamped with British athletes all eagerly awaiting the first event on Saturday, the sprint Duathlon and then on Sunday, my race the Standard distance.
A trip past the beach on Friday afternoon validated the earlier race briefing that transition was on the beach, despite the Duathlon format of Run-Bike-Run. There were though a number of ETU officials in transition, amongst the seaweed and the sand covered boarding, when a gaggle of volunteers arrived, lifted the racks on their shoulders and starting walking it off the beach and up to dry land. The pending storm surge that evening was going to water log transition and left no option but to set up elsewhere. We watched the re-siting for some time before heading off to eat with one eye on Facebook awaiting news from the team managers on the change to transition.
Saturday came and, on throwing back the curtains we were surprised to see rain, not ideal for those competing in the Sprint Duathlon that morning. We made our way out to the bike turn to cheer on the British athletes and were met by a fairly chaotic scene, made significantly worse by the weather. The bike turn for laps was on a fast section of the course but, turn, “join the course” and “return to transition” was all in a narrow section of the road, we didn’t have long to wait until the first faller blocking the road and stopping the flow of the bikes – we moved on to watch the run hoping that lessons would be learnt for the Standard distance duathlon the follow day.
With a mid-afternoon start on Sunday we had some time to kill, a problem for some but between a late breakfast and some easy lengths in the hotel pool to keep cool not too much of a problem for me. A late notification on Saturday evening confirmed that transition wasn’t re-moving and would use the same format as the Sprint, which was a good decision by the organisers as lessons learnt from Saturday could be put in place for our event. The treacherous turn had also changed shortening the bike course a little by moving it around 300-meters to an earlier roundabout.
The heat was rising by the time I shouldered my bag, and rode the lift, bike and all, from the hotel room taking a slow walk down to transition to set up. It was certainly warm, a little over 26°C in the shade, so hydration was going to be a critical part of the race, get that wrong and my race is over. Palms trees, blue carpets, barriers, ETU officials, red t-shirt of the volunteers and a sea of GB tri-suited athletes met my eyes on arrival. I get issued my timing chip and directions to my racking point, right down the bottom next to the sea, next to the turn point for the 4-laps of the 10km run course. A lot of chatty, slightly nervous GB age-groupers passed the time of day as we all confused each other with “run in”, “bike out”, “bike in” before getting the official line from Rosemary, one of the GB team managers. I walked transition, memorising the flow, the entrances the exit whilst supping on my pre-race electrolyte and trying to stay out of the direct sunlight in an attempt to stay as cool as possible.
Twenty five minutes until start, it’s warm up time and I gingerly break into a jog hoping the heel doesn’t kick back. Fine, limited tolerable feedback from the heel and I add a few strides to the warm up activity keeping a close eye on my watch aware that starting pens often fill 15-mins before start time and with the first corner so tight it would be important to be near the front.
Seventy or so athletes make up my wave, three age groups together, and we shuffle towards the start line. There’s a party atmosphere with two minutes to go, that might be nerves but some are singing along to Peter Kay, 30-seconds then the drum rolls start, the oversized digital clock is ticking down the seconds, five, four, three, two the horn sounds and we’re off. Straight down the blue carpet that also makes up the finish, and hard right to avoid ending up in the sea and that ill-fated transition area. At first we run along the sea front and then on past the palm trees, the aid stations bearing right on tarmac towards the river, before some crazy paving across the lap counting mat and 180° around the turn to signal one eighth of the first run course done. Things start to settle down and runner’s string out making it easier to overtake on what is a narrow course with only cones dividing the outward and the earlier waves return. “Hydration and regulating body temperature” is part of the race, I remind myself when coming to the first aid station, and I empty the bottle of water over my head, next time I’ll drink some too! Back to the cheering crowds at the bottom of T1/2 and loop round to start the next lap. This time the course has an additional hazard, water. The copious amounts tipped over most athletes has wetted the shiny flag stones on the sea front and an immediate right turn means backing off the pace to almost a walk before accelerating back up to re-join the crazy paving alongside the river. The laps tick away, my Garmin buzzes to remind me I’m on the last lap and I start getting mentally prepared for transition.
I was pleased to see a full bike rack as I headed straight to my bike, grabbing my helmet whilst kicking off my shoes, before slipping on my cycling shoes and following the flow up to “bike out” and the mount line. “Start steady”, the sticker to my handle bars reminds me, as I bring up the cadence on the bike. I give two other GB athletes a shout to ride on the right as they have their race heads on and are riding hard on the left hand side of the road. We join the laps section and another huge roar from the GB supporters surrounding the turn point. Still riding steady at high cadence I push on up the drag and glance at the power meter, before noting the next sticker, “drink”, I do as it says and then start to notch up the gears as the run legs turn into bike legs.
The 9km loop is full of bikes, race officials, camera crews and support bikes I begin to settle and surge past riders, trying to keep out of the drafting zone and passing in the official over taking time. Clearly not to regulatory standard as an official buzzes me and gesticulates to back off, apparently I am too close. I ease off take another drink then surge on past to avoid any further warnings and up to the top roundabout an eighth of the course done before pushing on down the hill to the roundabout at the other end. At the end of lap two another warning, and I realise I need to adopt a different over taking strategy if I am to stay in the race. I decide to make this a set of intervals, surge past in the official 20-seconds and then back off, hopefully not too much to upset the riders I have just overtaken. Past the first one and my legs are complaining but backing off they recover, next surge I have to take six else I will be breaking the 10-meter rule as there isn’t enough space between riders, now that really made the legs scream. I continue the interval over taking approach which makes the time pass more quickly than expected.
I think I have counted four laps, or was that three, I’m at the turn, the Garmin say 31km, that sounds short, maybe only three. The ITU official almost stops me in the road, have my two warning resulted in a penalty, no she ask if I have completed 4-laps, not a great question when I was in doubt myself, I shouted transition and just hoped I got it right. My Garmin buzzes, 32km, that was set to remind me I was on the last lap, now I am confused. I pushed on and start to think how I am going to explain my in ability to count to 4 and how I got DQ’s from the European Championships.
The nagging doubt continues as I double my effort through the deserted streets of the town and on to transition. Louder and louder the noise gets as I near the square, one side for transition and one side for the presentations for those lucky enough to make the podium later that day. I am there, a hard left and down the blue carpet conscious that braking could result in a fall so I shift right to stay on the dry flag stones, dismount. No bikes in racking, I must have miss counted the lap, I’ve no choice but to carry on and just accept it. I get shouted at by an ETU official as I run away from the racked bike, this just isn’t going well, apparently my helmet must go in the box, but I tell her “I haven’t got a box”, no excuse “put it in the box”, so I go back to my bike and put it in somebody else’s box.
Finally I exit transition and my heel reminds me why this really must be my last run, a kilometre or so later and the pain has subsided and the run legs were back, aid station, tarmac, crazy paving and a mixed emotion, that bike rack wasn’t empty, a fellow GB athlete from my age group goes past in the opposite direction. Enough confirmation that I didn’t miss count bike laps but also that I was fighting for a podium position. The crowds roar again as I loop round on the final lap and I hear my name being shouted, I hadn’t realised quite how many people knew me, but what a difference it makes, I don’t want to let them down but that last lap of the last race is starting to tell. More water to cool off as I pass the penultimate aid station, I won’t need any for the last two kilometres. The crowds in sight, the final corner in sight, a crescendo of sound as I enter the finishing straight up the blue carpet, a huge number of union jacks being waved, I take one on offer, glance at the digital clock suspended above the finish where 1hr 54-mins earlier there was singing, and I’m done – a huge sigh of relief, a finisher medal popped around my neck and off to the athletes finishing area to share stories, commiseration, congratulations and to find out that all important finishing place. Bronze for my last race, I’ll settle for that, season over and time for a rest from running.