After the nightmare of Ibiza last year I decided that I was going to take a couple of years out from competing in the European Championships but when I heard it was going to be in Transylvania, I just couldn’t help myself (I have to admit I didn’t know that Transylvania was a real place).
It’s hot in Romania at this time of year and I knew weeks in advance that it would be a non-wetsuit swim, so I’d been panicking for weeks. I’m a good 15s quicker per 100m in a wetsuit. (For those who swim with me, it’s even better than giving me a pull buoy). I picked up my ‘medium sized car’ at the airport, only to discover that they’d given me a Toyota Ago. With the race being in the middle of nowhere, every car for miles around had been booked so I was stuck with that. Good job my bike is a small frame, with both seats pushed right forwards and the passenger seat folded as far as possible I just managed to squeeze my bike in. Good job I was traveling on my own. Then there was the ‘food situation’. I have quite a ‘delicate constitution’ on race day, and have to be super careful about what I eat or it can all go horribly wrong. I forgot to pack my porridge so I tried to buy some at the local supermarket. What I ended up buying instead of milk was a kind of sour yogurt which tasted disgusting on dry oat flakes so next thing to worry about was a ‘bathroom emergency’ as I hadn’t seen a single portaloo or toilet on the course recce.
It’s fair to say that the Romanian organising committee didn’t have any idea what they had taken on. They had 700 athletes competing in a race an hour away from the race HQ with no parking facilities and we were told that, whilst the roads weren’t closed, we wouldn’t be able to leave the race venue until the last runner was finished. I was being collected from the race by some Romanian friends and they wanted to be away straight after I finished, so something else to worry about, and most of you know what I’m like on race morning. Let’s just say, I was a bit of a wreck.
But actually the swim in the reservoir was lovely. The water was warm and clear so no panic attack’s today. Not quick, I was out in 38:19, a few minutes slower than I might normally expect but not miles off the back of the pack as expected.
The run to transition was up a steep bank that they had boarded and nailed wooden slats to stop people slipping, but with a dodgy Achilles up a 45 degree slope, I wasn’t taking any chances. Typically, I was overtaken by a few people in transition. 4:31 – not great but acceptable.
The bike course was four out and back loops on a country road around the lake and up into the hills. But 700 athletes on a 10K stretch of road, it was a little congested. Particularly on the hills. At least the marshals were being reasonable and only penalising people would were genuinely drafting and not enforcing the 12m rule. I felt like I was going OK. My instructions in 30+ degree heat was not to ‘smash it’ as is my natural inclination but to be ‘measured’ and save something for the run. A couple of ladies did overtake me, but not as many as I was overtaking and I was determined to stick to my race plan. I was drinking much more than normal, but it was hot so figured that was a good thing. And then I started to feel my right hip flexor, every time I pulled up. Not painful but just enough to worry me, so I backed off a little more, particularly on the climbs, none of which were very long, but there were lots of them. I should have known I wasn’t trying hard enough because I wasn’t breathing too hard. Off the bike in 2:35:41 (it was short, 83K with 2270ft of assent)
T2 was uneventful, except for the fact that I put my bike stuff in my bag and hung it back up rather than dropping in the bag drop, so I had to go back. 1:20, pretty nippy for me.
Out onto the run and immediately I knew I was in trouble. I don’t typically take fluids on the run but even before the first water station I was gasping. The temperature was in the low 30s and super humid. You could see the storm clouds brewing and it felt like there was ‘no air’. I resigned myself to the fact that this wasn’t going to be fast or pretty. I soon began to feel quite sick and had to walk for a few seconds to stop myself. I don’t know if it was the heat, revolting yoghurt breakfast, the lake or just that I had taken on too much fluid on the bike but struggled from water station to water station and had to stop at each for a sip or two of water. There were 3 per 5K lap but the next one always felt like miles. They were giving out sponges so every station I took a fresh cold one and shoved it down my back. With my Romanian friends out on the course I had to put on a brave face twice every lap. They were so enthusiastic I couldn’t let them see how much I was struggling. It didn’t help that the run was pretty uninspiring, four laps of a convoluted out and back route round the village. Mercifully, it was at least flat, a whole 5m of assent per lap.
I eventually finished the run in 1:51:21 (I think that was a little short too). Race time 5:13:01 overall and 5th FV50. Not my most successful race – it was the highest placed finish I’ve had in a GB race but 80-90% of the competitors were British which kind of takes the edge off it. 2nd, 3rd & 4th FV50 were 8 mins quicker than me and 6th was 8 mins behind. If I’d have pushed the bike harder I might have been quicker but realistically, probably not 8 mins quicker and things could have gone much much worse on the run. Once again it was a great experience racing with team GB 🇬🇧, Romania is beautiful and the people super friendly, but I’m not sure I’ll be going back next year.