Report from Howard Jeffrey
Bratislava, capital of Slovakia, seemed an interesting place for a weeks’ holiday for Jacque and I as we have never been to eastern Europe before. As luck would have it I had pre-qualified for the ETU aquathlon championships by making the podium in France last year. Race and prep out of the way in the first couple of days then free to enjoy the sights and experiences and the weather predicted to be hot and sunny. There were some different names on the roster in my age group this year and from checking the form I had worked out that I could make a bronze medal behind an Italian (the eventual winner) and a fellow Brit who I have beaten in duathlons before but whose swim looked much stronger (he was eventually second). The race itself is short and sharp in comparison to others in that it is 1000m open water swim followed by a 5K run. I would prefer larger fields of competitors in the age group but there was only one other competitor in my age group and if I was able to swim and run to form I was going to make 3rd and get another bronze. When I picked up my number I was 500 and I did not notice if the others were 497 etc. or 501 etc. as I was last on the list which could have been alphabetical. They tried to make it like the elite competition in that they announced your name and country and took up position on a numbered carpet on the pebbly beach. I had been in the water the day before and it was warm, calm and clear and the wetsuit felt good so there were going to be no excuses for a poor swim. We set off at 9.00 a.m. in a wave of about 80 and the sun was already high and the temperature slowly rising and at about 24 degrees which is quite warm to run in as you all know. My right hamstring after the really hard race last week had been slightly more than a bit stiff and I had applied all the remedies known to man to get it back mobilised for the run which thankfully was only 5K. I had not dared to even jog in the intervening week so a prayer that it held up once I got going and more practically, strategically applied KT tape and I was good to go. The gun went and the pack went off hell for leather, I however let them go and follow in calmer conditions that suit my swim capabilities and ease into swim mode as there is always the danger of hyperventilating and if that happens, as a race it is over. I got into my best rhythm straight away and overtook the novices who had fallen into the trap I just described. I saw at least one being rescued by a kayak at the first buoy at 200m. On to the next buoy at 300m then back to the beach for ‘an Australian’ exit where you come out of the water and dive back in to the roar of the crowd. The Slovaks were out in force and they are a knowledgeable audience and sporting nation in that their very own Varga (a triathlon great) was racing in the elites later in the day as well as one of their women (can’t recall her name) and of course Peter Sagan ( a cycling great) is one of their number and I am sure they have tennis greats too, so they were generous in their support. The foreign contingent and their support (for their own races later in the day) were also there, as we all had to set up in transition before the first race (which was mine and a few other age groupers). I exited the water towards the back of the group but was thankfully not last and took the run along the beach and re-entry steadily (which Jacque described as fannying around!) back into swim mode comfortably and repeated the course and final exit of the water in 21 minutes which I have to say is about as fast as I can currently go. Now for the slick transition. Well I got the top of the wetsuit off no problem as I practice that at the open water training sessions. I had deliberately not zipped up the tri-suit for two reasons, one to breath better during the swim and two so not to be too hot on the run. I noticed when watching the elites later that they were all undoing their zips during the first few meters of the run. Here is why. When you remove the wetsuit with an unzipped tri-suit the two garments get into an unholy tangle of wet sticky fabric and you have to fanny around to separate them and put the tri-suit back on. Precious seconds wasted and I also feared a penalty for ‘nudity’ as you are not allowed to go torso (or anything else) nu because the women can’t. Head in a bit of a spin today as long time horizontal and rolling in the water to upright and trying to multitask in the heat. Eventually got out of the suit and it was like my running shoes did not want to go out to play today. I had to sit down and explain to them that yes they were. Other people seemed to be effortlessly floating out of transition and leaving me in their wake. Oh No I thought please not fourth that would be failure today as form said third was my place. I got up and headed for the exit to the run, referee’s whistle? Disaster DQD? No (phew) still had my swim cap and googles (they were pushed up off my eyes at least) and was being advised which was good of him. Had to reverse back to put the blighters in the numbered box at my station. Nothing like giving the competition a head start! The run course was an odd one. 5 laps of 1K up a narrow tarmac path to a cone at 500m with a sharp turn. A deceptively testing incline over a stream feeding the lake which you had to negotiate 10 times. At the top of the first one I was aware that in the last four weeks I have done 4 really hard and mainly very hilly races. Post race the other guys also reckoned these inclines had added a minute to the normal 5K pace so what was tough for me was tough for them. After 1K I had settled into a reasonably strong pace and the GB support was good and confirmed at least I looked strong which I was happy to believe (you judge from the photos). No problem with the hamstring so time to race! Who though? All the field was on the course and the numbers were clear I had to make a decision who to focus on. Maybe 350m ahead I spotted number 501 who I suspected was the only man to beat for a podium place. Head clear now as able to douse with cold water at the drink station each lap so judge the pace and with clear 500m points could see what the relative run speeds were and what action to take without blowing up in the open sun at 26 degrees and rising. Am clearly the faster of the two and have I spotted the hunted look of fear in the rivals expression? I think so. It gets harder and it hurts but I look for the reserves to get up to and overtake 501 who I have to still believe is the one to beat. I have to get enough daylight between us in case he has a sprint finish that is better than mine (as if, but you never know!). Final 500m and am up on my toes and finishing strongly without any potential rivals near. Just have to hope I have raced the right one. Jacque saw the result before me and I finished third and had chosen the right one to race. Looking forward to the next one now.