*** many thanks to Henry Clark for this race report ***

The Virgin (½) Challenger!

What can I say, a great event, well organised, easy to get to and the Catalonians are the most hospitable people. Emirates now fly direct in six and a bit hours so Barcelona is easy to get to from Dubai. There is great food, especially fish and at a great price, I would recommend this event to anyone as an early season “B Race”, training race or just a great event.

This was my first 70.3, after I had to to drop out of Phuket due to a back injury at the end of 2012 and needed a “B” race before Roth, so no pressure, ha, ha!! Initially billed as a straight forward sea swim, a gentle rolling bike course along the coast road and run along the sea front, only the last part was true! Due to problems with drafting in previous years the bike course was changed to an inland route up into the picturesque hills behind Calella (which by the way is nowhere near Barcelona, 80k up the coast).

1st lesson listen to your coach “Ed” he has been here before and his advice is from experience, ignore at your peril. Race plan, strong on the swim and the bike then pace the run, this is a practice and a nutrition test. Race fueling plan was, gel 20mins before the swim, Gu and carbo drinks on the bike and Run on Coke and water. My personal plan in order of priority was, survive (finish), enjoy (try to smile at the camera), target time (smash it).

What a Triathlete needs is a great support team and I had gone with best Irish support team you could wish for and thanks to Marie, Elaine, Jeremy and Deirdre, when I could understand what they were saying! They had me in stiches from the minute we got on the plane, till we waved goodbye in Barcelona. We flew out on the Friday morning arriving with plenty of time to get to the Guest House (great recommendation Trip Adviser) and check the bike for any transit damage before dinner in the town.

Saturday.  Prerace day, the wind was strengthening and the sea growing so we decided to give a practice swim a miss. We assembled the bikes and had a great 15k ride along the coast and a run along the beach then back for breakfast. Afterwards we tried to drive the bike course but the race map was a little more like “guide lines” with some artistic licence and got a little lost in the forest. We managed to miss the English version of the briefing so settled for the French version; well we got the gist I think, something about Swim, Bike then Run! Seriously go to the briefing, firstly why not and secondly you will always pick up useful info, like penalty systems, the course, cut-off times, wave starting system…………

Quiet afternoon, sorting out kit and grab bags, checking the bike into transition, and early to bed was the order for the rest of the day. I had too many questions:-

  • Lots of number sticker in the race pack, where to stick them? Bike and bags obvious, one for the helmet and the other 3?
  • So what do you take on the bike, tube, gas, multi tool, tyre levers, foam tyre repair can, a light weight water proof top……………. Did I use any of this NO, only lugged it up 1500m of climb, what a waste, will travel lighter for Roth.
  • What to eat, Ed had said 2 Gu per hour plus carb drink, OK so 4 hours that’s 8 Gu, where do you store all of them on your bike?? Well 4 taped on the cross bar, two in the cross bar pocket and two more stuffed in with the tools!!! Guess what? Did I use all 8? nop only 4!!
  • Drinks for the bike, from past experience your first bottles need to be disposable, making space for the ones you pick up at the aid stations so I had packed my oldest bottles that I didn’t want any more and duly filled then with carbs the night before the race. This was a mistake!
  • What to wear on the bike? Weather forecast was really helpful (not), sunny spells, cloudy, showers and thunder. So maybe it will be cold up in the hills so I will put on a cycle top over my tri suit. Sounds a good idea until you try it in transition when you are wet and wobbly after the swim. I felt like Harry Houdini getting his straight jacket on (maybe showing my age here).
  • The run grab bag, content? Gels, drinks, muesli bar, the correct answer in the end was nothing as the plan was “coke” remember!

Off to T1 to check in the bike and drop my bags off and have good wander around transition. Luckily I took some ID otherwise they would not let you check-in the bike or receive your chip which was given out at T1 registration. Found my spot, nice and easy to locate, second row along & 10m in, remembered what was said at the briefing, helmet in the bag not on the bike. Found my peg (like the first day at school) and again great location last row second peg in :) can’t forget that. Last double check of the bags and the bike, then back to the guest house, some dinner and bed.

This was the first point that I became anxious, the sea looked rough and not calming down and the bike course had looked hilly so all ideas of a sub 6 hour was out of the window, along with race plan and the focus was on finishing and not timing out on the bike gate. When the negative thoughts start to take over and we revert to survival mode! Luckily I had my support team who were great at distraction along with entertainment. Early dinner of pasta and off to bed, I was tempted by some excellent local wine which helped the sleep until 3am then my mind was racing and sleep was over.

Race Day (already)

Up at 4.30am, Breakfast thoughts are only of ablutions, how we get obsessed by bodily functions and hoping we don’t get caught short on the bike or the run. Nothing to worry about all sorted :). Find the wetsuit, double check swim cap, goggles, tape on the timing chip (which ankle, ah sod it either will work, left seems to be the correct answer looking at other competitors, not sure why.

5.30. Leave hotel and walk to T1 to check all is well, pump up the tyres and drop off drinks ( NB made the hot day before). Happy to walk on my own for a bit and gather my thoughts for the race ahead. Back the 1.5k to the swim start and then up to the Street bag drop and wetsuit on, caught back up with the support crew to zip me and apply some Glide to the parts that need lubricating, then off to the swim start for a quick dip to test the water temperature, was very cold compared to back home in the sandpit!

7.00 Elite men set off; I am wave 8 Purple cap so plenty of chance to watch people getting swept back up the beach by the waves!!! Stomach churning, trying to smile and really no memory of those 24 mins but they went very quickly.

7.24. I am off! Power through the waves 200m to mark 1, all good, settle into the swim and make the first turn to run parallel to the beach for 1.5k. Mark 1 on my left, 90 degree left turn and …… “bright lights ET”, can’t see anything only the sun low on the horizon directly ahead and waves, no marker buoys, only lots of bodies and arms thrashing around. For 300m I followed the masses with no idea where I was going, and then from the top of a wave I caught a glimpse of the next buoy 50m off to my right. New course, stop being a sheep, straight into the sun, Mark 2 rounded, so where next, OK the next one must be just left of the sun as that is the only thing I can see. Another buoy found and passed slightly to the right, stay a little more left of the sun Henry. Keep sighting, no sign of the buoy and not many people around, shit I am way adrift  and heading for Italy? Doubt big time! It must be into the sun somewhere; I should be on it by now, surely, stop and take a good look no point in swimming out to sea. You beauty, dead head 50m, much happier now, passed another buoy, one more to go or is it two, not sure anymore lost count, just keep swimming, got to be the last one next, please! Next buoy is slightly too far right but not bad and looks like everyone is turning :):):). I can see a crowd on the beach but nothing else and everyone is heading this way, endurance part nearly done. Dry land ahoy. A quick look at the time, 39 mins happy with that in these conditions.

According to my support team I looked like sh*t when I exited the water and staggered up the beach half dead, under the circumstances I think that was a fair assessment. Focus Henry, T1, watch off and in the mouth, wetsuit striped down before you dry out, find the peg, sit down, suit & cap off, top on (what a struggle), socks, shoes, helmet on, pack away and head for the bike. Found the bike where I left it (lucky that), long run to the mount line, shouts of encouragement from Irish fade into the distance and I am off.

Bike nutrition plan, drink water first, then some carb drink, that tastes badly wrong, the carbo drink has gone off, check the second one, also gone off. Lesson sterilise your old bottles before you use them again. New plan, stick with water and gel to first aid station then ditch the bottle and pick up two new ones, have to risk it with a new fuel and hoping I won’t get an upset stomach from what I have drunk already.

Time to put some k’s down enjoy the Catalonian hills and keep the heart rate under 150bpm. After the aid station at the top of the first main climb I could see an entourage of motor bikes with flashing lights coming towards me, then Gomez shot passed on his way home, he was 60k ahead of me!!!!! Ok so I gave him a 24min head start so he had a chance!!

Sometimes you see people in life who can only astound you and for them you have the greatest respect. Just before the top of the final climb I came up behind a Para Competitor who was cycling a normal road bike but with only one leg. He certainly put my meek efforts into perspective and many others around him, an astounding effort against adversity, everyone was encouraging and applauding him. I felt very moved.

Hills were hard they went up and up for what seemed forever, but what goes up must come down and at 50kph plus, except for some tricky bends at the top. Soon the k’s were flying by and only one climb left before the decent back to the coast. The clock watching and constant mental time recalculating was beginning to suggest I might be off the bike in around 4 hrs making a sub 6 hrs overall a real possibility :):) and the world seemed a much better pace.

The town was quiet as we rode back through Callela but heaving once I went under the rail track back along the beach, T2 was very close. No mistakes, make T2 clean, dismount before the line, shoes on-off-on-off-on definitely stay ON the feet, don’t stumble take it steady……went through my mind. Running to the bike rack I thought shall I take my helmet off, then looked up as the guy in front unbuckled his chin strap while still running and a marshal in a yellow coat, pulled him over for a 1min penalty, close shave Gromit. Rack the bike where it came from, into the tent, helmet off, strip down to the tri suit and out.

On to the run, time check 3hrs 59mins and something seconds, under 4 hours :) that’s all that matter. So in the briefing they said 1.5k back to the start/finish then 2 lap of 9.8k ish and it’s all over. Quick look at the watch again, running 4’40”’and feeling fine, at this point sub 5min/k average seemed possible. What happened to Ed’s plan Henry, all gone, no chance of not finishing now, enjoyed the bike so it was all down to the fastest time now. First pass through the start/finish. I noticed the penalty box but only thought to check for my number afterward I had passed it. As I went past the finish time clock it read 4hrs, 30mins, sh*t that means I only have 90mins to do the rest of the run to stay under 6 hrs, really need to step on it, what happened to the maths earlier, very confused?????

Ok next thing, the first run aid station, the plan, rink coke, “coke”, “coke”, “where’s the f*****g  coke table”, what no coke, why not, what next errr ?? Energy drink, ok, this stuff tastes like sweet cold tea, I’ve dribbled all down me and now I am sticky as hell. Note to self, remember to be nicer to the aid station helpers next time you come to an aid station, :( you grumpy sod!

Back to the game in hand, pace still 4’45” ok, is that enough to do 19k in 90mins, no not really, what went wrong with the time calculations? What did the finish clock say again, 4hrs 30mins, idiot Henry!****! You forgot the head start I gave Gomez and Macca, take off the 24mins, plenty of time, cool, very happy again. So simple plan, now target to keep under 5min/k average and be happy you’ll be happy with 5hrs 45mins.

Lap 2 and final run for home, still running 4’50” so must be on schedule. Worked out to pick up coke and water at the aid stations, one to drink and one to rinse off the stick with, (but when your mind is fried its too easy to get it wrong way around, messy, very messy). Decided to drink four mouthfuls of coke at each station but this was too much and by 15k my guts were really objecting, (apologies to anyone running behind me :(). Really slowing now, 5’10”, focus, push the pace back up, 4 k to go and down to 5’20” can’t go below this, 3k to 5’30” step on it there has to be something in the tank, 2k still 5’30, should be enough for 5hrs 45mins?? One K only, step on it, the finish is really close, 500m, 250m, in the finishing arena. The guy in front of me looks like my age (old ish) and I have got be ahead of him, cant loose one place on the line, give it all. Where is the Irish support squad, bet they are still in the bar :(. Oh yee of little faith, all I can hear is my name from the stands, 50m to go, what a great feeling, the home crowd are cheering for you and this is what it is all for, the FINISH, nothing can substitute for this moment, try it, it’s all for this mad addiction we call Tri.

THE END

Epilogue :-

Many thanks to everyone in TriDubai what a great bunch of guys and gals to train with, thanks to the Irish support team, to Ed for all his coaching, National and Higgsy for the constant encouragement and thanks to my beautiful wife and kids for putting up without me! Often!

Final thought, Roth Germany, the Full Monty, in 7 weeks, only have to do the same again “twice”!