Heather Hobbs: European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships October ’19 Race Report

Saturday 27th of October was the European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships. I’ve been nursing an Achilles injury since the summer so pre race training hasn’t exactly gone to plan. I only started running again six weeks ago and have built up from 1 min run, 1 min walks. A month ago I was all for pulling out but Gordon wouldn’t let me.
We arrived in Ibiza on the Wednesday to clear blue skies, 27 degrees and brisk off shore breezes. I’m really not sure why I entered this event as I knew it was a sea swim and I have an unexplainable phobia of swimming in the sea – I hate the salt, it makes me gag. Anyone who has seen me before a race will know what a state I’m in but the build up to this race was 10x worse. I did the team swim recce on the Thursday and got out after 20 minutes and promptly burst into tears on some poor unsuspecting chap on the beach who innocently said that it was ‘a bit choppy’. I forced myself back in the water on Friday when it was calmer and managed to convince myself that whilst it would be horrendous, I might be doable if I just let everyone else go and swum well out of the way of everyone.
We woke on Saturday to grey and stormy skies. Thunder, lightning and biblical rain flooded the bike route, postponing the start to 3pm which really screws the nutrition plan. I think I had 3 breakfasts whilst watching Facebook posts of flooding sewers and listening to various rumours of cancelled swims (which got my hopes up), cancelled bike legs (I think I would have pulled out) and it just being a half marathon (never going to happen as there was an Aquabike event running alongside the Tri).
At 2pm the final announcement. The race would go ahead. They had cut the bike route in half, the worst possible scenario for me – no excuse not to race but my strength is the bike and I needed the head start going into the run which was only ever going to be slow. I’ve still been run/walking in training just to get the distance in. And even worse, they had cut the gap between waves to 2 minutes, meaning that the Aquabike men would catch me before I got to the island that we had to swim round.
But strangely it didn’t feel like a proper race anymore. Having spent so much of the day thinking it would be cancelled I just wanted to get on with it and lining up on the seafront I wasn’t quite as terrified as I expected. The starting horn went and I ran in with the rest of the over 40s women. The sea was relatively calm, which made it much easier and I actually found lots of toes to follow. A couple of women clearly didn’t like being drafted and stopped swimming briefly before administering a sharp kick or two and one lady who obviously thought I was stealing her lift gave me a firm shove off the toes I was on but this is pretty normal stuff. The worst bit being that it’s seawater that you swallow, which makes me gag and the image of that overflowing sewer still fresh in my mind didn’t help much either. And then the Aquabike men started to pile through. The faster ones just disappeared and despite trying to jump on their toes I couldn’t stay with them but I managed to hitch a lift from some of the slower ones. The swim measured 2.1K by my watch and can only be described as the toughest swim I’ve ever done. Transition, no joke was a Km long. A good 200m up the beach into the changing tent (nothing left by the bike) and then back through several 100m of bikes up a tiled lane to the mount line. At the team briefing we were all advised to leave shoes on the bikes and run transition in socks. Great if you’ve practiced getting your feet in your shoes on the move. I’ve only just mastered a running mount (as those of you who have seen my many a falling off on the mount/dismount line will know) so having managed to find just a couple of elastic bands late on Friday and had no chance to practice, committed the cardinal sin of trying it for only the second time ever in a race. Needless to say I quickly remembered why I’d decided not to bother as I almost crashed before I was even properly on the bike and very nearly go a time penalty for blocking the mount line. I think I only got away with it because the race official was laughing at me so much.
Once on the bike it quickly became apparent why they had cut the course short. Lots of surface water and the roads were really slippery. I lost control of my back wheel a couple of times and I was taking it pretty easy on the corners, some people were just hammering round. I saw three crashes where people had lost control and come unstuck. The course was described as hilly and technical, not sure I would go that far but not one for anyone who doesn’t have pretty good bike handling skills in those conditions. I have to admit to being quite glad at the end of the first, and only lap, not to be heading out for a second time as it was still raining pretty hard and I was quite cold in my backless female specific Tri suit (just like the pro’s wear and bought specifically to race in the heat in Ibiza)
The dismount was pretty uneventful. I got my feet out of my shoes in plenty (probably too much) time and dismounted easily only to be faced with a bunch of Aquabikers just ambling about, having finished themselves, quite oblivious to those of us who still had to run a half marathon.
The run was never going to be fast but I stuck like glue to my race plan: run at a steady pace, walk through the aid stations and any steep hills (due to the added strain on the Achilles). The published route was around the harbour of Ibiza Town which would have been perfect, if a little dull, but instead they took us up into the Citadel on each of the four laps which meant 8 x ~100m of (I kid you not) 28% gradient climbs on cobblestones, and 4 x ~100m descents where the marshals were making everyone walk as it was so slippery (its still raining in case you wondered).

I finished with a swim time of 36:31 (awesome for me given my dread of the sea and the fact that it was 200m long)
Bike 1:28:00
Run 1:56:48 (I timed it at 1:54:11)
Overall 4:06:36
9th FV50
Gordon has very sweetly pointed out that the paratriathlete with no arms was quicker through T1 than I was 😂

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