This was my A race for the year, primarily because I lack the imagination to deviate. I bullied my Brutelle friend Margo in to qualifying too, but as her enthusiasm gained momentum, mine began to dwindle …
The year didn’t start too well … I had a lingering hip injury so wasn’t running much, then the week I was due to start training I went down with a 6-week chest infection. I topped this off with a follow up viral infection necessitating prescription inhalers and a numpty detachment from my bike resulting in a hospital visit. So, of my three planned tune up races I DNF’d two and DNS’d one. I completely lost my first block of training, spent the second trying to get back to where I was before I was due to start the first and the third fighting the urge to call it a day. My coach friend Rekha aka ‘Snuggles’ (which may come as a shock to anyone who’s met her) told me not to panic, to listen to my body and go for marginal gains. So I sacked off Wednesdays track session and went to a yoga class instead. Not entirely sure that’s what she meant, but still.
The race was to be held in the quaint little town of Soria in north central Spain. We were staying in a trucker’s hostel 6km out of town with race buddies Angeylarse, Dean, Jamie and Jack. With the race scheduled for the Sunday we arrived on Thursday so that we had a couple of days to orientate ourselves. It transpired that Ange had also booked for the previous Wednesday, two rooms for Sunday and nothing at all for Saturday. Things were going well so far.
We got all the necessary stuff; registration, route recce’s etc out of the way on the Friday which left Saturday morning free before the compulsory team briefing at lunchtime. We’d agreed upon a day of minimal time on feet, but upon Margo’s insistence and with a promise that all we had to do was sit in the car and take photos, we headed up to Laguna Negra … a rather lovely lake in the mountains with some interesting flora and fauna and apparently a haven for Eagles. Apparently. A 3 mile round walk later we’d failed to spot any, but on the plus side despite the un-scheduled hike we were on time to make it back in to town for the briefing.
Race day dawned and Margo was up with the larks. She and our new friend Brett headed in to town ahead of the rest of us for the sprint race. The previous week had seen glorious sunshine and indeed the same was forecast for the following week … with today being the exception. It was blustery and cold for the sprinters, but as the morning progressed the winds picked up and the threat of rain became imminent. The standard competitors were set off in groups over a half hour period, the women last with a 5-minute gap between the under and over 40’s. As I stood on the start line with my fellow old birds I looked heavenwards … the clouds were hurtling across the sky at an alarming rate, flags were threatening to detach from their poles and a sudden crash alerted us to barriers tumbling to the ground and planters rolling across billowing blue carpets. Great. It was the kind of day that would see you looking out of the window thinking ‘not on your nelly’ and ditching the bike ride in favour of a 4-hour turbo with the remote out of reach and the channel stuck on perpetual repeats of Celebrity Juice. In other words ANYTHING would be preferable …
Unusually I didn’t know any of my fellow 50-54 competitors, but just as the race was due to start the very lovely Anne introduced herself to me. A move that I’m sure she regretted once the race HAD started as I LOVE making new friends and we had a lot of catching up to do. The 10(ish)km run was 4 laps in and around a pretty tree lined park which required the negotiation of multiple dead turns and persistent changes of gradient. Ange shot off in hot pursuit of the two Spanish girls at the front of the pack and Anne, Sue and I formed a nice little group chugging along behind.
I’ve done enough duathlons now to know how to pace myself … with the weather conditions as they were the race was likely to be longer than anticipated and pretty brutal on the bike leg. What better way to make sure that you’re not overdoing it than to have a little chat? Sadly, Anne had to ease off due to a previously sprained ankle, so that left Sue with just me for company. She did inform me that she couldn’t talk, which I knew was code for ‘shut the funk up!’, but I figured my desire to talk was probably greater than her desire to punch me in the face, so I rattled on.
I didn’t know at the time, but I entered T1 in 10th position overall. I never really consider overall positions in these things, I tend to focus on my own category, primarily because I’m a bit of a lazy racer and if I think I have no-one to chase and there’s no-one chasing me I conserve my energy. Well that’s what I tell myself anyway, in reality I’m sacking it off. Although I hadn’t had the chance to test my bike fitness properly, my most recent results indicated that it was probably my strongest discipline. With this in mind and knowing that I was in the lead I had a relatively un-flustered T1 and headed out on to the bike course bracing myself for what lay ahead. What lay ahead was the hairiest bike leg of my life!!! The wind was gale force so all thoughts of ‘racing’ went out of my head and the primary objective was to remain upright. For we hardened Yorkshire folk the 3 lap 40(ish)km bike course was ‘undulating’ … aside from one short granny ring jobbie the ‘hills’ were sweeping and on recce day the vast majority of the course was TT bike friendly. But not today. I tried to get down on to the tri bars as much as possible, but the gusts were unpredictable so it was a fine line between best possible aerodynamics and taking ‘game over’ risks. So that was it. I just pedalled round with everyone else, getting battered by the winds and hanging on for grim death.
I’m still not entirely sure why, possibly due to the nature of the course … constant acceleration, deceleration and changes in gradient, but my calves were cramping badly. I’ve experienced this a couple of times before and it seems to occur when I raise my heel, so the shoe change in T2 was going to be interesting! And by gum it was … both calves and my left quad went in to violent spasm and I was rendered completely immobile. I stood motionless for what seemed like an eternity and waited for the spasms to subside then sat down and endeavoured to get my running shoes on with my toes pointing skywards. This approach seemed to work and with only my left calf still cramping I shuffled out of transition and as I did so the heavens opened.
Once I was confident that my calf would hold up I relaxed and thoroughly enjoyed the final 5k run! The support from the British contingent of family, friends and fellow competitors was superb. Margo kept popping up like a bad smell donning her favourite bobble hat and frantically waving her little union jack flag, so I did have brief moments of engagement, but I was lacking a run buddy.
Then lo! Dean appeared around the next bend … hooray!!! A run friend!!! Sadly, he was on his last lap and veered off along the finishing chute giving me a shove as he departed. I’d like to think this was intended as a helping hand, but if it was anything reminiscent of the infamous portaloo incident of Copenhagen 2016, I suspect it was an attempt to faceplant me for the amusement of the remaining supporters who were still braving the elements. Bless them.
At each turnaround I could see a Spanish girl hunting me down, but I didn’t care … she looked about 12 so clearly not in contention for the FV50-54 title. She caught me with about a kilometre to go. I attempted a conversation, but she wasn’t having any of it. To be fair my grasp of the Spanish language is limited to the necessities for general tourism, so she probably wondered why I was asking her for a large beer. I tucked in behind and concentrated on her svelte like figure instead and wondered if I’d ever looked in such good shape. Considering I spent a not insignificant proportion of my youth perched in the steps of Preston Guild Hall swigging cooking sherry directly from the bottle, I concluded not.
On the final approach to the finishing chute my new Spanish non-friend didn’t appear to have an awful lot left in the tank, old and frighteningly menopausal I may be, but I did, so I went for it … streaking to the finish line and crossing it just ahead of her. Which I instantly regretted as a) she’d started in the earlier race so I was already 5 minutes ahead and b) I was gonna look well shit in the finish line photo.
My buddy Louella came in not long after me in a podium position for her category which was jolly exciting indeed! Having dropped to 3rd place on the first run Anne managed to claw it back on the bike for a silver medal in ours!!! Sue was thrilled to bits with a 5th place in her category too.
By now the rain was torrential so we collected our stuff as swiftly as possible and headed back to the hostel. Everyone really just wanted to stay in the bar, but you know who your true friends are when they insist on accompanying you to the awards ceremony instead. Although had they been proper friends, they would have told me how God awful my hair looked … on all the photos I look like the wicked witch of the north!!! Oh wait ……
So, race results scrutinised and analysed to the nth degree we ranged from exceedingly happy (me) to frankly a little bit gutted (Ange). An age group gold and 5th place overall (my best international championship result to date!) for me, poor Margo missed out on a podium by a mere 28 seconds (arghhhhh!!!), Dean completed the race with minimal damage to an already torn calf, Jack had an awesome first age group race finishing way up the field and Jamie was happy to finish 6th Brit in one of the largest fields of the day. But poor Ange … the conditions got the better of her and she crossed the line bedraggled and not entirely compos mentis. That being the usual state of affairs I can be forgiven for not fully appreciating what a bad way she was in, but thankfully Dr Margo was on hand to take the most excellent care of her by wrapping her in all our available clothing, stuffing her with all the remaining race fuel that we had, then pouring her favourite tipple down her neck like it was going out of fashion. Worked a treat. Worth mentioning here that our Angeylarse has an 8th place Commonwealth Games 10,000 meters under her belt and can thus claim to be a better athlete than the vast majority of us will ever be. Now that really is an achievement to be proud of.
All in all, a top few days in excellent company with a lorra lorra laughs creating a multitude of exceedingly happy memories that I shall treasure for ever. Heads up to fellow Sheffielders Sara Eames who had the race of her life finishing second in the F35-39 sprint race, Paula Fisher claiming gold in the F60-64 sprint and Lois McCartan who finished 7th in her first ever championship race! Also fellow 50 plus old bird Jacqui Phillips who obliterated the field in the sprint race finishing first overall … if anyone tries to tell you that it gets easier as you get older DO NOT believe them!!! HUGE thanks to the Raine family; Paivi and Kevin for providing top notch support and mahoosive congrats to Niko, who at the tender age of 17 competed for the first time as a GB age grouper. It almost goes without saying that our team managers Joan and Glyn did another sterling job of keeping us all incredibly well informed and demonstrated tolerance of astronomical proportions when we asked …. yet again …. If they can explain the non-drafting rule.
Final few words reserved for the poor souls whose day didn’t work out quite as planned. Another day another race dudes … you’ll be back 😊.