Evans report below: An excellent read which will ring some bells for many athletes out there!
It’s the end of June and I’ve just returned from racing the Long Distance World Champs in Sweden. My first outing in a GB tri suit taught me a lot; the Swedish lakes are a beautiful place to race, American athletes have the smartest uniforms and are quite loud, Japanese athletes are incredibly friendly but they’re ruthlessly competitive when it comes to being the last person to bow ….. and I’m not fast enough. Time for a training make over.
A quick call to Fran and I find myself moving smartly from my old school (get the miles in) training to the (warm up the defibrillator he’s looking a bit peaky) world of hard intervals. The target was a top 10 finish in my AG at the European Championships in Weymouth in 8 weeks time. I could look forward to hill reps on the bike, hill reps on foot, sprint intervals, swim intervals; no more 6 hour rides munching my way through enough calories to make the podium in a competitive eating contest. A check on my swim stroke and Ade was struggling to find something constructive to say, “you’ve got a lot of stuff going on there Evan” was the least hurtful thing he could think of. Down to work.
Fast forward to September 13th.
It’s 05:30 and we’re wandering around transition in the dark, faffing about with our kit and making bad gags about jellyfish the size of dustbin lids. There are some fantastic bikes racked up, including a beautifully prepared racing tandem belonging to a French PT5 athlete and his guide. By contrast some athletes haven’t even bothered to wash theirs and you wonder how they’ll make it to the mount line let alone cover 112 miles. By 06:00 it’s belting down with rain and the wind is beginning to pick up. Faces are starting to get strained and the Brits kick off the gallows humour. Many athletes don’t speak English but the dread of a wet & windy race is an international language.
07:00 and we’re penned up separately on the beach like sheep; pros first, Euro Champs Age Groupers next then the Challenge Weymouth athletes and the relay swimmers. It’s stopped raining and the sea has a gentle swell. The PA is playing some tension building music and the nervous chatter dies down. A drone hovers overhead filming us for a TV programme. The klaxon sounds and the pros sprint into the water like a bunch of Labradors let off the leash. Five minutes later and the Euro Age Groupers flop in to the sea less impressively and start bashing each other like a swimming pool full of seals. We all try to hit a comfortable stroke and find a good pair of feet to swim on, preferably attached to someone who knows where they’re going. Unfortunately the huge buoys are invisibly small from sea level so we flap about in random directions like a jar of fruit flies (after the race the consensus was that the swim was long, about 4.2 km, and everyone swam straight as an arrow!). The excellent canoe lifeguards start their favourite game of towing the turn buoys away from the triathletes. 700 metres later (ha!) we turn and swim parallel to the shore. Large jellyfish lurk a metre below the surface. We can feel the wind getting stronger and the swell is rising; still, the leg back to shore is fast, running with the sea. I hit the beach and notice a relay swimmer stand up beside me; 10 minutes quicker than me on the first lap! A short run along the beach and back in for lap 2. Now we can really feel the sea getting choppy. A hard slog out to the turn and it’s now impossible to sight unless on the crest of the waves, we’re getting thrown around by a confused sea and a few athletes are getting sea sick. I reach the ‘why am I doing this to myself’ point early but take comfort from the fact that the half distance athletes, who start later, will have much worse to deal with. An even faster swim back to shore from the final turn buoy and I drag myself out of the mountainous surf (poetic licence). I start the run back through the crowd to T1 and in my head I am Frederik Van Lierde sprinting to start my blistering bike split, unfortunately the photos later confirm that my youngest daughter is right; I’m just an old man in a leotard.
The roads are wet and the weather threatening so I take the time in T1 to put on a second layer and load up my pockets with a buffet of sports nutrition guaranteed to make me feel queasy for a week. On to the bike and off down Preston Beach Road, straight into the aero position and down to business of eating for 112 miles. I settle in and start to wonder who’s up the road ahead of me in my AG. The man to beat is Dave Mawhinney, the 2015 Ironman UK champion (Saga Generation), a Kona veteran and one of several uber bikers in my AG. I push on trying to keep my cadence high and gagging down Power Bars. As I approach the first turnaround I spot Dave coming in the other direction so dig a little deeper to see if I can catch him. I soon come up behind a fellow Cat K GB athlete so speed up to make a convincing job of passing him and to discourage retaliation. It wasn’t Dave. Before I know it I’m in Wool and starting the long run back to Weymouth along a fast, smooth road. The wind is on my back and getting stronger, I’m back in Van Lierde mode again! This bit is my favourite and I’m almost disappointed when I have to turn for the second lap. As usual the second lap seems to pass much quicker than the first, I concentrate on keeping the effort up and the fuel going in. I’m overtaking my way through the field but haven’t seen any other Cat K’s, especially Dave. I begin to worry a little that I am leaving my run legs on the bike. I’ve been plagued by a draft cheat who sucks my wheel for about 10 miles; I slow down, speed up, try the dirty look over the shoulder but he keeps hanging on. I decide to not let him ruin my concentration so when we get to Wool for the second time I shift into Van Lierde mode and ride off his wheel into the distance. I was relieved that he gave up easily because old men in leotards can’t ride that fast for very long!
Back to T2 and a quick(ish) change into my running shoes. At least this year I didn’t sprint out onto the marathon and have to run back to transition to collect my number belt. Back onto the Preston Road and running into a strong wind, clutching a fist full of weapons grade caffeine gels. Up onto the promenade and the hurting starts. The run is usually my strongest discipline but I feel like I’m running in wellies full of water. I see Dave coming in the other direction, about 20 minutes ahead of me; my head says I’ve bridged bigger gaps than that before but my legs think I’m having a laugh. I’m slipping out of race mode into survival mode. After a lap or so I pass the French PT5 athlete and his guide, immaculately turned out and running in perfect synchronisation; I have a little talk with myself about manning up and raise the pace. Through town and there’s plenty of encouragement from friends and family, the volunteers on the aid stations are fantastic and the marshals are cheering on every athlete that passes. Running east back out of Weymouth again there is a very strong headwind and everyone is slowing. I fall in step with another GB athlete, Chris Spencer, and we run together for a couple of laps. A spectator spots the names on our tri suits and cracks the gag of the day “Spencer Davis Group! Keep on Running!” (one for the oldies). Onto the final lap and the weather is beginning to get grim, the wind is a howling gale (more poetic licence) and parts of the course have their own mini sandstorms. Rain is not far away and I can see backmarkers are still riding in to T2. Chris shows a disgraceful lack of respect for his elders and bounds off into the distance to clip a few extra minutes off his finishing time. I chug another revolting gel and try to put on the style a bit for the final 500 metres. In my head I am now Javier Gomez putting the young Yorkshire upstarts in their place, again the photos paint a more humbling picture. I look like Long John Silver running for a bus. Across the line and at last the pain stops; in the recovery area we swop war stories and there is universal agreement that this has been a surprisingly tough marathon.
I never did catch Dave and he takes the win in our Age Group, I only managed to take back 5 minutes from him on the run. Still, I’m happy to take silver in the European Championships behind such an excellent athlete. 11 hours 11 minutes is a new PB and I’m already looking forward to next season. My training is out of a rut and this race has given me confidence to raise my targets. Thanks Fran, job done!