Report by Darrin Porter.
14th October, 1am in the morning and it's time to drive (well, sit in somebody else's car) to Bristol airport for the 6am flight to Majorca for the upcoming Challenge Paguera middle distance triathlon taking place the following Saturday. The race was also the ETU European Middle Distance Championships. Our group consisted of myself and several members from Truro Running Club.
I was the first to book my flight and decided to go Monday to Monday. This meant plenty of time to acclimatise but not so much time for post race celebrations in the sun, a fact that my fellow travellers and competitors constantly reminded me of. Tough.
The Majorcan weather on arrival was cloudy and warm but also very windy, we were however in for a major shock when we went down to look at the race beach that was just yards from our hotel. We were expecting flat, calm waters but were greeted with 4-5 foot, multi-direction, extremely messy surf and a huge swell. Coupled with the fact that this was almost definitely going to be a non-wetsuit swim due to the sea temperature, our instant reaction was one of complete horror. Undaunted, we went in for a swim and found that although fairly big, the waves were not that powerful and were easily duckable and it wasn't that hard to get out the back. We then began to think that these conditions might work in our favour given our Cornish sea swimming credentials. For sure, the look on the other land lubbers competitors faces were even more incredulous than ours and a lot of them did struggle to swim in it.
The sea stayed more or less the same for a few days, we swam a couple of times, we biked one lap (plus 10 miles after nav errors), we ran a loop of the run and generally relaxed just waiting for the big day. Friday saw a huge change in the weather. Although we had been having some pleasant sunshine between clouds, now the skies cleared, the wind dropped, the temperature soared and the sea became pan flat. The weather was forecast to get even hotter for the Saturday. Great.
Saturday morning 5am, time to get up for the race. Oh no, wait, the race starts at the perfectly civilised time of 12pm. Back to sleep.
The start is split into waves 5 mins apart. Elite men, Elite women, para-triathletes, male age-groupers under 40, male AG over 40, female AG, and finally open (all those not competing for their country in the championships). Dave Pearce and I stood in the sea to watch the pro start. The gun goes off and they all sprint high knee lift style into the sea. We were delighted to see several of them step into potholes and fall over. Even the pros do it.
Time for me to line up ready to go. The Euro-cheese music is blasting into my ear-drums from a speaker a couple of feet from my head. An ignorant foreigner stands on my toe and doesn't apologise – obviously not British. BANG! Toe woes forgotten, I rush into the sea keeping the field to my left as that's the only side I can breathe on. I'm expecting the usual fisticuffs but strangely it doesn't happen. A couple of nudges here and there but all very civilised and I find myself enjoying the swim. Out of the sea and onto the beach I look at my watch – 36 mins – that'll do, especially for a non-wetsuit swim.
Into T1, I find my bike bag without a problem and run up the longest line of bike racking ever created and find my bike. Run out of T1, flying mount, feet in shoes, here we go! The course is not hilly by Cornish standards, but there is a long drag of gentle uphill at the start of each loop. It is so hot by this point and I'm glad I have two 750ml bottles of water in my rear bottle holder. About two miles in, a fellow brit age-grouper informs me that the lid had come off from one of my bottles and I've spilt half of it's contents. I curse those crappy U*N bottles we've all had from the Cornish tri series. Anyway, not to worry as I have another one and there are two aid stations per lap. At around the halfway point of the first lap we approach Palma Nova/Magaluf (most unfortunate). I'm behind a Swiss guy (not drafting btw) as he turns right at a roundabout and I follow him. That was stupid decision #1 as that wasn't the route. Somebody behind me was equally as stupid. I quickly turned around just in time to see the mass of cyclists I'd just overtaken go flying down the hill ahead of me. The three of us rejoined the race and it probably cost us a minute or so. Onto lap two now and the heat is taking its toll. I'd spent the last couple of days deliberating on whether to wear the aero helmet or the much cooler but less aero road helmet. I decided on aero but without the visor and I was beginning to wonder whether this was the right decision as my head was pounding. I knew I was tiring as I did the whole of the first loop on the big front ring but now I was having to drop onto the small ring on some of the hills. I wasn't being overtaken though so that was a good sign. A bad sign was cycling into a bollard in the middle of a long straight road with nobody around me. Concentrate. I cycle through the last aid station without taking a bottle as I know I still have a full 750ml bottle in my rear carrier. That was stupid decision #2 because I reach behind to grab it and clutch thin air. F*ck me i've launched it and I've just gone through the aid station about half a mile back. I now have no water for the last 15 miles or so. I curse the makers of my £40 so called 'anti-launch' bottle cages as that's the second time since I bought them that they've launched. With an ever so slight thirst I make it back to T2, flying dismount, rack bike, find run bag, shoes on, visor on, shades on, here we go! Errr... no we don't. There is absolutely nothing there. I shuffle out of T2 expecting hordes of people to blast past but they're all shuffling just like me! Everybody is in pieces. I'm not expecting to be able to finish the run, the legs are cramping on the steep slope down to the beach and screaming on the gentle slope out of the town. I'm seeing aid station mirages in the blistering heat haze but they never appear. There are 2 aid stations per lap and there are 4 laps to run. I finally make it to the first aid station and greedily snatch some sponges from a small child and squeeze them over my head. I take a water bottle from another eager youngster and drink it all. I do the same at the next aid station and after what feels like an eternity I finish the first lap, but not without some major embarrassment. At the end of the lap I turn right and into the grandstand area where thousands of people are cheering and clapping. Oh no! I've run into the finish zone and I've only done 1 lap. I hastily turn around and start running the other way when a volunteer shouts something in Spanish and gesticulates at me to turn and keep going the way I was. It appears I was going the right way and the split between finishing and doing further laps was just around the corner. Embarrassment over, I'm actually starting to feel better now and the pace picks up a little. I take sponges and water at every opportunity. 2 laps done, 3 laps done. The temperature gauge outside of the chemist shop reads 36 deg C. Scorchio. One lap to go and I'm going to make it. I'm shuffling faster than most of the others. On the final lap I'm passed by the current leader of the elite womens race Helle Frederiksen. The diminutive Dane with her still perfectly plaited blonde hair as only the Scandinavians can do , eased past. I drooled. A minute or so later I was passed by the woman chasing her, an overly muscled masculine looking Austrian brute called Lisa Huthaler. She's been done for doping in the past but has served her ban and is now free to race. She may be clean now but judging from her body I'd say she's still reaping the benefits. I resisted the urge to shout 'cheat' but instead just silently seethed. Forget her. Concentrate. I'd been running behind a fellow Brit for most of the last 2 laps and he looked roughly my age and I was getting concerned about the finish. I don't do sprinting so I made a move with about half a mile to go. I say 'made a move' what I actually did was shuffle slightly faster. Into the grandstand area I make my attempt at a sprint. There are other athletes in front of me and I need to go over to the right to peel off to the finish but somebody is in my way. I barge past, cursing him and suddenly realise he is my room mate for the week James Hadfield. 1200 bloody people on that course and he gets in the way of my sprint finish!
That's it. The end, fin, finito. I finish in the time of 5:10:51. 9th place out of 43 starters in my age group in the European Champs. Happy.
Massive massive congratulations have to go to Anne Maskell of CycleLogic who won her age group and is now European Middle Distance Champion.
A huge well done to everybody in our little group that went out and competed – Megan Whitaker, Clare Thompson, Ali Smith, Dave Pearce, Anne Maskell and James Hadfield. Nobody gave up.
Thank you so much to the support from Sarah Matthews, Hannah Sly, Stuart and Sandi Sly, Simon Hildred and Megan's Mum and Dad.
Next up, Bala Middle.