Saturday, June 04, 2016

Lisbon Standard Distance European Triathlon Championships. May 2016 - the extended version

When they say it's bigger and better they mean it, but this was my first ever race abroad too.  The importance of remembering a race belt pales into insignificance compared to remembering one's passport.  Remarkably, a race belt and lock laces (elastic laces which make changing shoes easier) were the only items I forgot.

The yoga mat was left behind due to lack of space though I regretted its absence as I would have used it. Both as a yoga mat and rolled up as a foam roller to massage my muscles.  The most unnecessary items packed - my down coat, in case it was cold post-race; and a few million cold virus bugs that I really didn't want.

The plane journey was the first opportunity I took to plan my race targets and I did all my calculations manually to pass the time. As the flight dragged on my brain faltered at long division and the cold really took hold. We had rented a car to get us to a hotel across town.  1/4 the price of the team hotel which more than covered the cost of the hire car and fuel. It was a good move,  not least because I didn't infect the rest of the team.

After a nervous drive through a foreign city with excellent navigation by Mr Rodgers we checked in to the hotel and went to sleep for a bit then went for a walk before testing out the hotel restaurant.  Budget as it was, the restaurant was more of a bar with small ovens but we got enough stodgy pizza to see us through and ate the fruit of the trip, purchased from our local recce.

On Friday it was time for registration for me and I managed to time it perfectly with catching up with Fiona and Caz before their race. They gave me virtual hugs from a distance to avoid getting the cold, then set off for their start.

I registered,  watched them set off on the bike then fed a few more euros into the parking meter before going to collect Rosie Red.

Thankfully she had arrived in one piece,  ready to go. Thanks Nirvana Europe (although I later revise this sentiment when my bike was returned to Sheffield in a heap with four others, rolling around the back of a transit van).  (Still, at the time, ) A massive stress was lifted. I wasn't in the frame of mind for any last minute panic.

We watched a bit more racing before heading back to the hotel for sleeping then bike fettling. With new shoes I had not yet worn on the bike and a decision to change the position of the tri bars back to their old location, a certain amount of trial was required and I spent a good 45 minutes outside the hotel car park doing transition practice riding around the parking lot that serves some of the less exclusive high rise tower blocks in Lisbon's business district. I got some funny looks from the street yoof and city's cleaning staff returning from a hard day at work.   Then there was sleeping to recover from (the not-so-great exertion) and a longish walk to find dinner - the perfect traditional Portuguese restaurant serving delicious steak and sea food.

On Saturday it was back to town for the pre race briefing with team coach Nick. I had to be there at 10am and there was some concern that I might not make it as we had to stop at the scene of an accident as a scooter rider skidded on diesel right in front of us en-route to the venue.

Once we convinced the rider no one had hit her,  we left our scant details and headed off. Thankfully arriving with time to spare.

It was an amazing race briefing. Nonsense dispensed with.  We had all done plenty of triathlons. The brief focused on the process of registration, everything to get us to the line and employed humour and audience participation.  The only downside is that it made most of us more nervous about different and new rules and counting the run laps which were no longer 2 but 4.

I had 5 hours to kill before I could put my bike in transition so I set off to watch the mens elite racing - first from the road and then from the stadium. I was trying to minimise screaming but it was difficult.  Javier Gomez was impressive and team GB athletes did brilliantly.  The juniors were a pleasure to watch but mostly we ate our lunch - more salad - and slept on a wall then the women were off at 4. I watched the swim which gave me some great tips on things to work on with my own swimming. Then we headed out by the stadium to watch the women cycle and caught up with my friend Al from Sheffield who took Silver in his age group.

Then it was time for the final pre race hurdle - bike racking. It went surprisingly quickly. RosieRedWanderingDragon and I had our private moment before race day. I don't think anyone really wanted to leave transition.  Back at our hotels was the hubbub of pre race faffing and poor nights sleeping to be done.

Swim cap, race number, gloves, timing chip, tool bag, tiger.
If nothing else,  I had at least passed all the pre race checks and was given a timing chip.  I got all remaining kit locked in the car,  having decided that the risk of the car being broken into was outweighed by the risk of me leaving something in the room at 4:30am the next day.

We ate in the classy and over-priced hotel buffet next door although as I carefully chose my food options from the wide and glorious display, I realised that was exactly what I needed. There's a certain satisfaction to knowing exactly what your food looks like before you order it and pasta with salmon was perfect... so was the cheesecake.

I slept remarkably well. The cold was starting to ease and had not yet fully developed the catarrhy hacking cough that TSK had last week. Yoga helped. Every time I noticed my brain going into pre race scenario panic,  I brought it back to the breathing.  Of course I was often half asleep when my mind wandered and true to foreign driver paranoia, my brain developed several multi-lane roundabouts on the swim course where I naturally took the wrong exit.  There is quite a thick line between visualisation and paranoia.

Race day. Ibis, forewarned, were ready with an early breakfast for us and we coasted back to our same venue parking spot. A short walk from the start and free on weekends. The real quiet time started. Everything set up. Ins and outs of transition visualised over and over... again.  The scenery helped...

Sunrise by the Meo Arena Lisboa

Contrary to my plan I left my socks with my bike shoes, knowing I had not yet tried the shoes out for more than 20 minutes and never without socks.  Everything else was as normal with a new white cap (thinner than my cycling cap) to keep the sun off my fair hair head.

I had the perfect start to the warm up. I found a corner of the park overlooking the ocean where a German lady was doing some sun salutations. I joined her then was joined by an Irish lady who just wanted somewhere quiet to get ready - though in the end there was quite a lot of chatter.

Yoga spot by the Targus river with the sun and a heron.

 I got my wetsuit on my legs and met TSK for a zip up before the saunter into transition and another great,  enthusiastic humorous swimming brief by the ITU official.

That's me waving my arms in the air
We were quickly into the water and away on the buzzer. No messing. I was just as quickly spat out the group but my swim was going to be the only un-monitored section of my race. My target was 33 minutes which I knew I could do at a relaxed pace. It was all about nursing the cold through the water. Fortunately the temperature was a barmy 18.8 degrees. I looked left and saw a group so I merged over to them and found some feet to sit on.

They were a bit fast and kicky but I managed to hold on to them to the second turnaround with a lot of sighting to make sure I was still on it.

They caught a lone swimmer and in the pass, someone dropped off the back behind me.  She sat on my feet for a while but my fingers started to splay so I did some breast stroke to get the blood flowing. I might have kicked her once or twice.  It was purely accidental.

The switch worked and when I went back to crawl I sped right up,  dropping my tail but not quite making it up to the two ahead of me. I had one turn to go. Another burst of breast stroke to warm up and this time I made contact with the leader of the next wave coming through -the over 40s men. My kick won me a dunking which was completely uncalled for. Still, I had one job to do - get out and up the ramp, hopefully without getting in anyone's way.

Some blocks of granite had fallen out of the harbour walls and I nearly kicked one which led me to put my foot down as soon as I touched the ramp with my hand. It was a bit slippery but I could see the exit carpet ahead. As soon as I hit it I was reaching for my wetsuit zip and to my surprise I had my arms out by the top of the ramp where the timing mat prompted me to check my watch. Sub 32 minutes. Yes!

My favourite picture from the weekend as I still look strong and my hair is flat.
Hat and goggles off into my basket with the wetsuit. One look at my socks and I thought,  "I'll never get them on" and proceeded to bare foot bike shoes for the first time ever.  Sometimes a gamble pays off and they gave me no bother and a 2 minute transition, though looking back, this was shit compared to everyone else.

My usual flying mount onto the bike where the only bugbear was getting my cleats into the pedals as I bounced over cobbled speed bumps. All the bolts were tight except of course the elbow pads that I played with on Friday and I forgot to tighten. Oh well,  they only had to last 1hr and a bit.

Flying, none of this getting your feet in nonsense.
It took me a wee while to get into the swing of things but mostly the route and road surface were predictable. What I hadn't seen I had been warned about though some of those roundabouts were weird. Because it was a closed road race we were turning left onto them but from the right hand side of the road. Of course when we took the slip road onto the closed motorway,  I couldn't help doing a shoulder check either.

The most dreaded part of the course I had checked on Google earth had shipping containers for miles and was not particularly pleasant. As it was, the view on the other side of the motorway was sunshine,  ocean and the occasional silhouette of a fisherman. Not at all bad.

I am used to a constant stream of asses to chase on the bike due to my competence with pedals and incompetence in the water. But this was the European champs and most were pretty damn good at everything.  I busied myself with the occasional cheer for an older age grouper I passed - mainly British - or Portuguese - because I was so pleased to be there. Also responding to the many encouraging words from the whippet boys passing me on their second laps. Thanks lads.

Then we hit the hill climb. I had tried to plot this route on-line before to figure out the hill-climb and concluded it was nothing to worry about.  Fortunately I didn't change my gear for it because it was more than the off ramp of a motorway,  climbing 120m in 1.5km.  I passed my first Portuguese competition

Everyone bunched up as we tackled it in different ways. There was enough headwind to justify staying on the tri bars but enough steep to justify a leg-saving 26 gear (well for me anyway).

Another story on the way down. A tail wind, sweeping bend and mostly pristine motorway surface. Into tuck position and dropping the men! I had to tell a Swiss man to get going because he couldn't decide if he was making a legal pass or having a rest.

I forgot to check out the turnaround point on the way in to lap 2. Lessons learned point. Some swift cone manoeuvres got me back on course then I remembered to start paying attention to my speeds. First lap I averaged 18.9 mph.  Could I make it stick at over 19?

Hunting Portuguese

Another 2 Portuguese ladies for me to pick off before the climb. Then a Brit as I whooshed past on the descent back onto the flat motorway and then into town.  I was 1 minute behind the next placed rider, an Austrian and lost 20 seconds to her in transition (that'll be the socks then).

I shot off on the run, not knowing what I would do but trying to make a magic 7mph target - higher than the one I set for Stockton.  I ran a whole lap at a blistering pace and reached the first exit ramp from the stadium full of beans.  I went for a fell-runners exit on the slope and powered my way out of the stadium.  At the next corner I clocked 10 mph on my watch but then my cockiness kicked me in the stomach with a massive cramp which I pretty much nursed the rest of the way around the lap.

The only thing that took my mind off the pain was shouting for other runners as and when I passed.  Until finally, that didn't work any more and I stopped for a little walk at one of the water stations.  Williams, who I had just passed and shouted to, was kind enough to pat me on the shoulder as he went by and told me to get a move on.  THANK YOU!

I started running again and although I nursed the stitch for another half a lap, I finally decided to stop drinking and dousing in cold water and just run, like I usually do.  It worked and as the results showed below, I gradually started to pick up my pace again.  I stopped looking at the watch and ran by feel instead.  I waved goodbye to pushing myself against the clock and instead, just focused on going as fast as I bloody felt like.

Feeling better then.
Because we disappeared into the stadium every lap, the Garmin wasn't quite picking up the length of the route so as I came around the fourth time, ready to finish, with TSK already indoors ready to finish, I really wasn't convinced it was my time.  Still, I decided the elastic bands don't lie (I'd been transferring one from my right wrist to my left every lap) and threaded my way into the finishing chute, convinced by following a familiar runner down there.

I picked up a flag from small children offering them and then sprinted for the line to beat a Norwegian bloke, just for kicks (poor fella wasn't even in my race).

I could argue that the sprint finish belies the fact that I wasn't going flat out but then that's not what I am designed for anyway - not at the moment.

The completion was elation itself.  I'd not been convinced I was going to get out of the water alive with the cold drowning me and when I set off on the run, I hadn't been convinced I was going to last the full hour of that.  But I did.  People gave me water and a beautiful young Portuguese man hung a medal around my neck.

I'd like to say I lounged around in the athlete's area but I headed straight for the bathroom to empty my bladder and coughed until a fellow athlete came to ask if I was OK.

After a bottle of water and some recovery drink, I changed into dry clothes then headed outside to find TSK.

Swim - 28/29 - 31:54
T1 - 28th - 2:13
Bike Splits 1, 2, etc - 13th, 24th, 23rd, 21st, 20th - 1:53(0.5km), 20:47 (12.75km), 18:50 (7.25km), 21:04 (12.75km), 19:52 (7.25km)
T2 - 29th - 1:34 (I need a butler!)
Run Splits 1, 2, etc. - 17th, 15th, 15th, 21st (stitch), 20th, 19th, 18th, 22nd - 4:36 (1km), 3:50 (0.95km), 6:32 (1.45km), 3:45 (0.85km), 6:54 (1.45km), 4:00 (0.85km), 6:53 (1.45km), 3:59 (0.85km), 5:24 (1.15km)

Overall time 2:44:02

The end of the day was long - finding my bike again, eating, dropping my bike off with the shipping company, walking back, sleeping in the street waiting for TSK to find me because I got separated from him like a lost child.  We missed out on most of the fanfare of the day and headed back to the hotel so that I could sleep through the snot.  We went for a walk and ended up eating in Pizza Hut because it was the only place serving food at 5:45pm and we could get some vitamins in the form of an over-dressed salad.

Still, I finished, I survived.  I never thought a standard distance race could be so hard.

If you're wondering, yes, I've already signed up for the only qualifying race that I can make this year.  There's more to come.

No comments: