Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Baywatch style

The European Standard Distance Triathlon Championships, Alanya, Turkey

Laura Fidler and I arrived into Turkey on 10th June, nearly got sold on the taxi journey from airport to the apartment then were offered ‘mints’ from said taxi driver. This was going to be an interesting week…

I don’t want to make you all jealous of our incredible week in the sun so I’ll skip the parts where we laze in the sun all day, eating ice cream, topping up our tans and I’ll concentrate on the actual triathlon part. But just so you get the feeling of what we were up to when you were sat behind your desks in June, here’s a couple of photos from our adventure.

Our beach-side gym session interrupted by a camel

View from our dinner table

Sunset on the beach

After suffering from patella fasciitis since late April, I’d had seven weeks where I’d done no running, no cycling, and as I’d finished my degree less than a week before coming out here, there had been plenty of partying and drinking. Let’s just say that I wasn’t in the best shape approaching the Euros. Ever since I qualified at Bedford Triathlon last summer, I’d told myself not to take myself too seriously and treat it as a triathlon on holiday. My lack of training sealed that deal, so I was pretty relaxed approaching race week. I’d made the hard decision not to race our main University race against Cambridge, Varsity, because of my knee, but was really hoping I’d be able to finish this race in Turkey and give it my best shot.

Before the race day there was plenty to get done so sunbathing time was limited, meaning we resorted to the occasional turbo-tanning session. I’d recce’d the bike course, registered, attended the team briefing, completed a swim recce and racked my bike. At the swim recce we saw that there were sprinklers on the run between the sea and T1; Laura challenged me to exit the swim during the race and strut through the showers bay-watch style. On the night before the race, there was the opening ceremony, parade of nations and pasta party too, which was all fun and games, until the music was ramped up, the Turkish dancers came on stage, and things got a bit dodgy. It was at this point we decided to call it a night.

Swim recce

On the morning of the race, we took a cab down to the start line and made the final touches to our bikes in transition. The sun rose over the mountains in the distance and the temperatures started to increase, proportionately with the stink coming from the portaloos. We had no race numbers in our race packs (something the Turkish organisers did not realise until we were given our packs the day before the race) so everyone was tattooed with their numbers on both shins and arms.
Sunrise over transition
Photo credits to Laura Fidler

At 7:10am, we paraded down the pontoon and into the water on the other side. I was dead chuffed with myself for positioning myself with the best line for the first buoy. There was also one of the pontoon’s stilts right by my spot so I used this to push off with, practically diving in, whereas everyone else did a static start.

It was so awesome to swim in the sea... Without a wetsuit... At the European Championships... Ahead of the whole field. I was loving it! For the majority of the swim, I swam on the feet of another GB girl. I tried several times to swim around her and take the lead but she was really strong. In the last 100m, as we neared the shore and I realised I would not get the first out the water I had secretly aimed for, the girl in front started to veer to the right – off course. I knew then that this was my moment, and I had to go. I sprinted the last 100m, got level with her, then overtook and was first out of the water at the Euros, by about seven seconds! Forget cool, calm and collected Baywatch style; I came out of the sea to the crowd’s cheers and celebrated in style like some monster from the deep on ecstasy, arms flailing everywhere, and pretty much skipped into transition. The Turkish men on the sidelines were yelling “Number one girl! Number one girl!”. I was lapping it up!
This scene didn't quite make the cut for Baywatch
Photo credits to Sam Anderson

The bike was a health and safety nightmare – glass on the course, a stray dog on the loose and a whole load of Turkish tools that shouldn't be able to call themselves triathletes. Laura and my other supporters James and Emerick were there on every lap screaming my name and making me chuckle with their sheer volume (swimmers' lungs). On the last kilometre of the bike, Emily Whitmore, another girl in my age group, overtook me and as we came into transition a Maltese girl came past too. I had a dismount as shocking as Ronan Keating’s affair and then watched the girls disappear on the run, a somewhat familiar feeling.

I decided to start the run steadily then ramp it up if I could. What actually happened was I started steadily then got slower. It was embarrassing. I’d swapped the “number one girl” cheers after the swim for the sympathy cheers from British supporters: “Go on love, keep moving”, “Don’t give up” and the classic “you’re looking strong" when I clearly wasn’t.

This is how smooth I felt on the run

After tipping a bottle of water on my head at the first aid station the talcum powder in my shoes (a whole kg of it) had turned into a kind of cake batter consistently, which was squidging between my toes with every step. How delightful. After the first lap, Louisa Downs overtook me, again at a pace that I couldn’t have stuck with. For the other three laps my glutes were screaming, I thought my ITB was about to explode and I could do little else than nod my head to acknowledge the incredible energy my supporters had every time I passed them. Finally, after what seemed like an age, I was back on the blue carpet and ready to cross the finish line.

In my delirium, I crossed the finish line, took more than my fair share of Powerade from the marshal and jumped straight into the ice bath without a second thought. I then realised that I had willingly hopped into a paddling pool with a bunch of sweaty topless Turkish men. I had to make the decision which mattered more: my legs or my dignity. I stuck it out for 10 minutes, until the dude next to me ‘accidentally’ stroked my leg just one too many times.

I re-grouped with my supporters and other athletes Betty and Lauren and headed to the nearest café so our supporters could finally go the loo and have some well-deserved breakfast – they hadn’t taken a break from cheering us all morning. What troopers. Us three girls sat in the water fountain sipping our milkshakes and eating some salty chips (after a couple of my blog posts you’ll soon begin to notice a theme with my post-race nutrition).

Once the shed-loads of caffeine in the High5 X'treme had worn off, I had a well-earned nap in the sun and a panini on the beach. Reminiscing the morning, I was incredibly pleased with how the race had gone.  Being the fastest female at the Euros is something that no-one can take from me, no matter how embarrassingly slow my run was. And despite finishing 4th in my age group, and out of reach of any prize money I was within the Top 3 GB girls, meaning that I had pre-qualified for the 2014 European Championships in Kitzbuhel, Austria. Laura and I were going on another girls adventure! Read about it first here.

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