Simon Cole, one of Rhian’s coached athletes has recently been in competition at the 2017 Soria ETU Sprint Distance Duathlon European Championships.
Here’s what Simon had to say about the event and how TriRox Training helped his preparation.
The journey for this race started back in October 2016 when my first son was just three weeks old – a qualification race at Oulton Park, Cheshire for the Standard distance (10k run, 40k bike, 5k run) European Duathlon Championships in Soria, Spain on 30th April 2017. The top four per age group (AG) gained automatic qualification for Soria – I came in second in my AG…
…Seven months later with the bulk of the training done (under the watchful eyes of the superb coach Rhian Roxburgh), ‘Team Cole’ packed up their campervan (Wilma) and started the long journey to Soria, northern Spain. We arrived in Santander on the north Spanish coast about a week before the race to continue the journey to Soria, about three hours’ drive south, but first took a detour through the Picos de Europa, a mountainous National Park for some sightseeing. We had a couple of days here and it soon became apparent that the ‘summer’ gear we packed may have been a bit optimistic and leaving Picos to drive to Soria we got diverted because one of the roads was closed due to snow! This wasn’t the Spain I had imagined.
Soria was also in the mountains but luckily there was no snow there when we arrived. However, the next day – the Friday before the race on the Sunday – it was minus 1 degrees when I met up with a bunch of other hardy GB age groupers to do a reccy of the run course around the park in Soria. There were even icicles on the water tap in the campsite (luckily Wilma has heating) and one athlete staying on our campsite even went home because of the cold! When I went to the team hotel to meet the GB team manager, as he saw two athletes exiting the hotel in shorts, t-shirts and flip-flops, his words now echoed in my head; “you’re going to need more clothes than that”!
The weather forecast for the race day was about 12 degrees, 30 mph winds and rain starting at midday – right when I was set to start my bike leg. Suffice to say, the topic of conversation around the camp for the next 48 hours was “what are you wearing for the race” and the local Decathlon store quickly sold out of all the lightweight waterproofs and base layers. Luckily I managed to buy a regulation see-through jacket from a market stall near the start/finish area along with the last pair of toe-warmers for my tri-shoes (my feet always seem to be the worst affected by the cold).
So no excuses now, I was prepared. The training was in the bank and it was time to relax for the next day. I even managed to fulfil my palaeontological desires (that’s my day job) by taking a trip to find some dinosaur footprints (these are common in the area) as well as the obligatory trip to the coffee/cake shop for some pre-race carb-loading.
So onto race day: It was a bright and breezy start. I was envying the ‘sprinters’ (5k run, 20k bike, 2,5k run) who were off earlier than us ‘standards’. Maybe the weather would hold out for my race at 11:20am…
After a quick change of plan involving an unplanned warm-up cycle to the race (rather than driving) because of a road closure, I arrived in transition, racked the bike and walked through the setup. I also decided at this point that a base layer and tri suit would be enough but put the waterproof in the transition box just in case the weather turned in the next hour.
A warm-up jog with some strides later and as ever the start time of the race was approaching before I knew it. I made my way to the start/finish area at the bottom of the park for 11am. There were about 60 people in my wave – ~40 from my AG – 35-39, and ~20 from the AG below (30-34). GB and Spanish athletes very much dominated the start lists but there were also representations from countries such as France, Ireland, Belgium and Italy…oh and Mexico?!!!
“On your marks, *BANG*” – we’re off. As I had reccied the course, I knew roughly what to expect; 4 x 2.5k loops in the park with each loop having six roughly 180 degree turns – 24 in total for this run leg. This, with the added incline in the park, along with the effect of the altitude (Soria is at ~1000m – roughly the height of Snowdon) which I was told equated to ~30 seconds on top of your usual 10k time (you only get 89% of the oxygen available at sea level apparently!), I knew this wouldn’t be 10k PB territory. However, apart from a small calf niggle the week before, I was feeling in good shape.
I went off hard, quickly falling into about 5th position in the wave of 60 and the first placed Brit. The Spanish were running very strong making up the top 3 three places. On about lap 3 I was starting to feel the pace and got overtaken by a fellow Brit (who eventually came second in my AG). I think I went off a bit too hard and the continued effects of the conditions were getting to me. Just one more lap of the park I told myself and Team Cole were great support spurring me on as were the hundreds of other GB supporters – it pays to have your name on your tri suit sometimes! Although the course with the switchbacks wasn’t good for times, it was good for the spectators.
So I held on and came into transition about 5/6th in my wave – I figured about 3rd in my AG which proved to be spot on checking the results afterwards. My official time for the first run of 10k was 36:07 which if you add 5 seconds onto each switchback (2 mins in total), 30 seconds for the altitude and 30 seconds for the elevation gain (~100m) would be nearer to a 33 minute on a flat 10k – that’s what I’m telling myself anyway! It certainly felt harder than 36 minutes and I was still worried I had gone off too hard.
Transition 1 went ok (looking back I was 10th in my AG) though they had moved the bike stand in the night which confused me even though I had set-up in the morning. It was a long run up a grassy slope in my socks before a flying mount on the bike. I was feeling a bit light-headed already at this point and was worried that I had overdone it on the run but knew that the first couple of km of the bike were downhill giving me some respite to re-fuel.
Round the first corner, right, up into big ring and power down – dammit the chain has come off! Usually I can hop it back on by moving back into small ring but then it got jammed and wouldn’t budge no matter how much I forward/back pedalled – I was going to have to get off and sort this out otherwise I’d break the chain which would be game over. So one minute into the bike leg, I probably lost the best part of another minute – not a great start. I was even more annoyed because after jogging the first part of the bike course after racking my bike that morning I had said to myself – “I’ll have to go back and put the bike into big ring”…if I hadn’t have forgotten, I could have saved a minute (well at 30 seconds at least!). I kept a calm head though and it probably actually helped me focus on something else apart from being knackered from the run!
Back on the bike I got a gel down my neck with some much needed sips of energy drink. Onto the tri-bars and hit the downhill out of Soria. Round the corner and bam – there’s the wind that they were predicting – I had to hang on for dear life just to stay on the bike. I could see that quite a lot of people were sitting up to control the bike but I thought; this is where I can make up some time for dropping the chain – lets go for it.
The bike course was an out and back, 3 laps of ~13km each. Before the race it had been described as hilly with people debating whether a TT bike or lighter road bike would be the most suitable weapon of choice. The general consensus was TT bike so that’s what I opted for and I was glad I did because the ‘hills’ never really got over 10%.
The 180 degree turnaround point 6.5km SSW of Soria was actually at the same altitude as Soria so it was generally down out of Soria, a climb up to the turnaround point and the reverse on the way back in, therefore there shouldn’t have been much difference in time for each part. However, the headwind was really strong on the way out which translated to a difference of 4 minutes – it took me 14 minutes out, just 10 minutes back. The hills on the way back really didn’t feel like hills with the wind behind but on the way out I sometimes felt like I was crawling and kept switching from TT position to riding on the hoods to try and find the most efficient way – I’m not sure there was one – just brute determination!
My average speed suffered accordingly. In my qualifying race at Oulton Park I had averaged about 23.5 mph (38km/hr) for the same distance (albeit half the height gain) but here I only scraped above 20 mph (33km/hr). This translated to 1hr 15mins of riding time here when I was hoping to get under the hour – quite a difference. Some of this may have been down to going out a bit hard on the run and generally feeling lacking of energy but my heart rate had been about the same for this race and the qualifier so I put most of it down to the conditions (oh and again can blame the altitude, but apparently this time because the air is thinner, there is less wind resistance…still less oxygen though!).
It was hard to keep track of exactly what position I was in from then on in because there was a wave of athletes 5 minutes ahead of us (20-29 year olds) and then different waves followed us every 5 minutes after our start time; you could never be sure what wave or what lap the competitor you might be overtaking or being overtaken by was in! I know I am a stronger runner than cyclist so generally fall down the positions during the bike leg (something to work on!) – I generally worked my way through the slower cyclists (probably from the earlier wave) and only remember being overtaken about five times (not including the three or so that overtook me when my chain dropped at the start!). Looking back, I was 11th in my AG for the bike leg – I was disappointed with this but it was probably to be expected.
I had a good battle on the bike with an Irish competitor – he overtook me on the second lap but I stayed with him (being careful not to draft him of course – I didn’t want a two minute time penalty!) – I generally would overtake him on the downhills (maybe my mountain biking bike handling experience helped here) but he’d take me again on the flats. He eventually got the better of me on lap three when my legs were dead and he headed into the distance, but this battle wasn’t over…
The final lap of the bike I ran out of energy drink and was parched so decided to grab a bottle of water immediately after the turnaround point – a good situation for the water stop as you didn’t have to lose any speed – this made me feel a whole lot better and I washed my second and final gel down on the next downhill. One last uphill back into Soria and increasing the cadence on the bike a little to prepare me for the next run (5k).
The dismount went ok and I ran back down the long grassy slope into transition. Team Cole were back cheering me on here, though that was a bit of a blur. I ran straight past my transition point (I need more conspicuous running shoes!) still remembering the position from the night before rather than the new position in the morning (I was obviously delirious!). A few seconds later though the bike was racked and running shoes on – go go go! Looking back I was 5th quickest in T2 – not bad.
This last leg of the duathlon always goes so fast so no matter how bad you feel, you just have to go for it! I knew the Irish fella was just in front of me and spotted another couple of targets to hunt down – I didn’t know if they were in my AG but anyone is a fair game and it helps psychologically knowing you’re moving up the field. I overtook the Irish chap and looked down at his race number to see that he was in my AG – great, that’s one position gained – I knew I had to keep powering on now, don’t take your foot off the gas otherwise they might try and stay with you – a look over my shoulder 30 seconds later and I had made up 20 metres or so; I knew he wasn’t coming back.
As I said in the bike leg, it was difficult to make out who was in my AG – in hindsight I should have known roughly what race numbers I was competing against and apparently the shades of race number were slightly different – a bit too subtle when your head is under a visor or you’re bleary eyed because of lack of energy though!
Anyway, lap one of the second run was over like a flash – I overtook a couple more people but was annoyed to be overtaken once by a Spaniard only to see him peel off for the finish straight – OK, he must have been in the first wave (20-29 year old) so I didn’t lose a position and he was obviously doing a sprint finish! Just one more 2.5k lap to go now and I could count down the switchbacks in the park – 6-5-4-3-2, 1 more corner and then there was the finish line. In the pre-race briefing the team manager had said to look out for him handing out flags on the last corner but I was too focused on getting over the line to do this – I’d love one day to be able to do a race and have the foresight/energy to collect a flag from the crowd without worrying that I would be overtaken on the line!
So it was over, Team Cole were waiting for me on the finish line and I propped myself up on Vicky and my Mum – the race had taken it out of me, I just hoped I had done enough on the bike to get a decent position as I knew I couldn’t have given much more on the run. It turned out I also was 3rd in my AG in the second run of 5k so I was happy with that.
Off to the recovery area to scoff some chorizo and pork scratchings –AMAZING post-race food! We then went to a local restaurant as recommended in the Rough Guide where again meat was the theme…I have never seen such large steaks as they were cooking on the inside BBQ – amazing. A steak, couple of beers and half a bottle of local Rioja later and I was in good spirits.
I retrieved my bike from transition and saw that the prediction about the weather had come in – the rain was pouring. It had actually started spitting when we were out on the bike leg but not enough to affect the race – this was proper North Walian rain now! I ran back to the coffee/cake shop to meet my sister and her boyfriend for more post-race refuelling – this is why I do duathlon/triathlon!
I had to wait an age to get my results because I couldn’t get WiFi. That’s the only thing about going out in waves in triathlon – you never quite know where you are in the standings and there didn’t seem to be any print outs or ‘results tent’ at the finish area. So about 5 hours after the end of the race, I finally found out that I had come 6th in my AG and 19th overall in the standard distance race (out of about 260 athletes) with a time of 2:14:06 – I was pretty happy with that. I was the 4th Brit meaning that I just missed out on automatic qualification for the European Championships in 2018 which are in Ibiza – I’ll have to do another qualifying race for that one. The winner of our AG (and also the overall winner) was a Spaniard by the name of Guillaume Le Mouhaer – he was over 2 minutes ahead of the field in 2:05:55 – a very impressive time in the conditions.
It was a great first experience to be representing GB – the comradery at the award ceremony afterwards cemented that feeling along with the standing ovation for the oldest competitor in Soria, a GB athlete at the grand old age of 83! I just found out I’ve qualified for the World Championships in Canada in August so I’ll be back – hasta la vista!
– Simon Cole