European AG Duathlon Championships - Soria

Soria is a small town lying about 2 ½ hours’ drive north of Madrid, which I must admit I’d never heard of before. It is a lovely historic town of about 30,000 people, who were most welcoming to the approximately 1000 athletes invading their town for the weekend. Over 400 of the athletes were British, making us the biggest team, even surpassing the 300+ host nation Spanish team.

I was staying at a hotel in the center of the town, which was less than 2 minutes’ walk from where the event was being held. This gave me the perfect opportunity to familiarize myself with every aspect of the event. Before arriving the course maps, particularly the run, looked very complicated, but as is often the case once you arrive at the venue, it all made much more sense when you could physically see it.

The Age Group races were on the Sunday, so I spent Saturday morning double checking everything was fine with my bike, and having a final transition practice. The rest of the day being free to attend the GB team briefing and then watch the Para triathletes and the Elites from the seated comfort of the town square grandstand. The men’s Elite and U23’s race was particularly exciting!

On race morning I woke early to a bright sunny day, albeit cold, about 5 degrees and very windy. I was taking part in the Standard Distance race, 10km run/40km bike/5km run, which was setting off later in the morning after the shorter Sprint event. Within the Standard race, the Women 40+ was the last wave to set off, so I had quite a long wait until our 11:45am start time.

As the morning progressed the weather slowly but surely deteriorated. The wind continued to increase, so much so that, as we were waiting to set off at the start, the barriers and flags of the finishing chute alongside us came crashing down. But at least it was still dry.

The first run was four laps up and down the tree lined avenues of a park and round past the start/finish area on each lap. I set off at what I felt was a sustainable steady pace. I had raced at Stockton just the previous weekend, so I found it useful to gauge my effort level at based on that recent experience. 

For the first lap I felt OK, but not great, but I managed a smile at my family who were sitting near the start line waving me through each lap. However, as the second lap of the run progressed, I started to feel like all the energy was being sapped out of my legs. I felt dreadful. This feeling really took me by surprise, as I thought I had prepared well for the race – lots of rest and recovery from the previous week, well hydrated etc. I pushed on, and had an energy gel, thinking this might help give me a bit of a boost, even if only a psychological one.

As the run progressed I felt worse and worse, it became a huge effort just to keep running, I was passed by countless runners as I slipped further and further back in the field. I concentrated all my thoughts on just getting to the next stage, and hoping that I could pull things back on the bike. When I finally reached the end of the fourth lap I headed into transition. This was up a small hill, which should have been no problem but it felt like a mountain as I struggled to keep my momentum going at anything other than a slow jog. I picked up my bike and set off along the long run out of transition to the mount line. I jumped on my bike and got my feet in my shoes as soon as possible because I knew there was a sharpish climb very near the start of the bike course. 

The bike course was three laps and had been described as hilly and technical. Personally I would have more described it as undulating, with a dead turn and few roundabouts and corners to negotiate on each lap. There were some long fast sections that I think I could have done very well on, on a different day. 

As I headed out of the shelter of the town towards the long open exposed roads, it became apparent just how ferociously strong the wind was. It was absolutely horrendous, I have never cycled in wind like that before. I abandoned any ideas of using my aerobars, and clung on to the wings of my TT bike, regretting my deep rim wheels, just trying to keep my front wheel straight and the bike upright. Part way through the first lap I was blown sideways, forcing me to hit a pot hole. I steadied the bike, but saw my water bottle fly off into the roadside. That meant no water for the rest of the bike leg. At around this same time the torrential rain started, and it was just a case of hanging on, and completing the three laps as safely as possible. 

I was mightily relieved to finally head back into transition, after about 1hr 40minutes of battling the wind and rain on the bike, with just the final 5km run to complete.

As got off the bike and ran down to T2, I began to feel the impact of over 2 ½ hours racing with only gels and no water. My stomach started to cramp and I felt very queasy. Telling myself “it’s only 5km”, I set off at a very slow jog, hoping the sickly feelings would pass and I would be able to increase the pace a little. Unfortunately this didn’t happen. I had the same feeling of lethargy as I’d had on the first run, coupled with stomach cramps. I jogged my way around the final two run laps, and I have never been so pleased to see the finish line. 

I finally finished the race cold, wet and exhausted in 3hrs 17minutes, 9th out of 9 in my Age Group. However, to me the statistics are irrelevant. I felt that I battled really hard, and I was proud that I managed to finish the race despite everything.  

(Wendy Drake)