Not everything will go to plan when you set out to complete a race. Sometimes things go wrong long before you even reach the start line. This fact you cannot change but how you react to the challenge is up to you, can you salvage a success against the odds?
We holidayed in Salou, Spain with the children some years ago, a nice beach resort just south of Barcelona. When Teresa saw Challenge were putting on a Half Ironman distance triathlon there in May it seemed an ideal early preparation for IM Barcelona. Challenge organise good events in a similar style to Ironman but not quite as expensive. The credit card came out and soon we had two entries and a week holiday in the sun arranged.
Time passed and the training was not really going as expected. Teresa had an enduring foot pain which it seems stemmed from a lumbar disc pushing on a nerve. This was not going to be a quick fix and a half marathon run was out of the question. She would still start the race but at best walk the run leg. My training was going better but work on the house was eating into my time and the bike miles had suffered. A personal best was no longer an option so what would success look like?
A finish was essential as this was a key preparation stage for IM so what else could be gained? I would treat it as a full dress rehearsal for IM. The course is similar, just shorter, the climate the same so I would race it at IM pace with a full change of clothes at each transition and the same nutrition and hydration strategy. With my lower than planned level of fitness I would naturally race around IM pace so my race plan would become just a long training session.
Teresa was treating her back and a recent short race off no run training revealed a three mile run was basically pain free, suddenly it was possible for her to race. A check of the Challenge website showed they offered a standard distance event on the same course on the same day, this would require just a six mile run, quite achievable when thirteen was still out of reach. The organiser agreed the transfer so Teresa was now racing again.
We set off for Salou ready to race, Teresa looking for a fast standard distance performance, hopefully a pb and me to get a long race specific training session but still hopefully finishing under 6 hours. Who knows what did it, we had friends stay both suffering with colds, we travelled on a plane full of people, I spent too much time in the sun getting a bit burnt on the first day, but whatever occurred I spent the Friday night wrapped in a duvet shivering one minute then drowned with sweat the next. The prospect of racing for six hours or so in 25 degrees seemed impossible. Suddenly even making the start line seemed in doubt.
The Saturday was spent preparing, racking the bike and race kit, sorting out nutrition and hydration. We kept drinking all day so as to be fully hydrated at the race start giving the best chance of a creditable performance. The temperature was 24 degrees in the shade and forecast a little warmer for race day. We did note Norfolk was a chilly and wet 10 degrees, we did not grumble.
Breakfast was set for 5am, I slept as well as you ever do before a race so all seemed ready to go. I started at 7.45, Teresa would be off at 9.50, and I left her sleeping as I went to the start. On the previous days we had swum in the beautiful clean waters and noticed how warm it was. Teresa decided to race without a wet suit, I still needed the help!
The canon sounded and my wave of 100 racers ran into the water, as I ran into the shallows a guy hurled himself past me and started swimming. I guess he had not checked out the water before the start so I just jogged past him as he swam furiously. About 30m in the water reached my knees, time to swim. The swim went well, 1900m in 35 minutes to the water edge then a couple of minutes run across the beach to the transition. A full change into cycling kit, not strictly necessary at this distance of racing but training for me, then on to the bike. As I rode past her transition area I saw Teresas bike so knew she must be preparing for her start. The bike course was fully closed roads, but mainly dual carriageway so not the most interesting. The road surfaces were good but there was a very technical section in and out of the town. It was clear some loops had been added just to make up the mileage. It was my first race on my TT bike, it went well but a few changes will be needed for comfort on longer races.
It was on the bike I could really feel my performance was lacking, I was riding at IM speed but was pushing harder than normal, I would pay the price on the run and I knew it. I saw Teresa riding out towards her turn round as I rode back towards Salou. She was racing hard and would come back into town just behind me. Her swim as expected went very well, her no wetsuit decision was the right one and with a strong bike was racing with the youngsters. She knew this advantage would come to an end once she reached the run leg but the race is a triathlon not just a run.
I did my planned full clothing change and started to run. The run course is totally flat, the laps taking you backwards and forwards along the sea front, much to the amusement of the locals and holidaymakers. This is normally my best bit and I feel great off the bike but the combination of pushing too hard on the bike and whatever was in my system from the bad nights previously I was struggling. There was a 1km loop then four 5km laps, I did not feel like I could even run 5km. My plan was as IM to run then walk the aid stations to ensure I fed well and fully hydrated. However bad I felt I could not let myself walk anywhere else or it would be game over, it was so tempting as many others were walking in the heat. It took every mental trick in the book to keep myself going. On the first two laps I saw Teresa coming the other way, running well, it was clear her pb was in the bag. I still had two laps to do, the six hour target was looking doubtful. Somehow, more by mental than physical strength the last two laps seemed to pass easier, it was getting harder to resume running after the aid stations but the last lap was done knowing I could still break six hours. I crossed the line with seconds to spare, 5 hours 59 sounds so much faster than 6 hours 1! I had managed to run the whole 21k, less the aid stations, so hard as it was all targets had been achieved, the biggest being a huge incentive to train better so the Monster event at Ely is nothing like so painful.
Teresa was waiting at the finish; she had completed the race mostly pain free and wiped more than 10 minutes from her pb. So much better than a miserable trudge round a 13 mile course and recuperation from more damage.
I lay here writing having spent the race night shivering and sweating again, of course along with the expected aching limbs adding to the fun so all is still not quite right with my body. Even if your race plan ends up as a different plan to the one you started with you can achieve something from every event, whatever hurdles get put in your way. Every race builds skills and experience you can draw on later and of course in a few days the pain goes and you only remember the good bits.
Triathlon is funny like that.