Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Race Report: ETU European Age Group Duathlon Championships

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(First of all, this is a long post, I apologise in advance!)

In case you hadn’t noticed (hard not to, what with my incessant Tweets and Facebook updates!), this weekend saw my first opportunity to don the Great Britain age group team trisuit and compete at the European Duathlon Championships in Limerick, Ireland.

After a cramped but bearable (and cost effective!) car / ferry journey to Limerick, we checked into the Maldron Hotel on the outskirts of Limerick (a great find by Rach – and very accommodating to three athletes arriving with a truck-load of kit) and got the bikes squared away.

We decided to take a quick shake down of the bikes to check the journey hadn’t affected the gears etc.  As we were leaving, I spotted my seat post had dropped a touch and made the decision to raise it back up.  Mistake.  Drama #1 ensued as we were unable to get my seat post bolt to hold and it kept slipping back down.  A little swearing and much brute force later, we did manage to get it tight and even took the risk of raising the seat 5mm or so (Mark had previously noted he thought I was too low on the bike).

Not knowing the local area we ended up cycling down what felt like a motorway (it was actually ‘just’ a dual carriageway!) until diverting in towards the city centre.  Unfortunately, Rach chose this moment to hit a fairly generously-sized(!) pothole which led to an instant front tyre blow-out.  With our bikes stripped for racing, we were a little short on spares but thankfully yours truly was carrying a spare inner tube and can of ‘gunk’ (not a single pump / gas canister between us – the shame!).  Mark had a momentary sense of humour failure, but 10 minutes later and we were in good enough shape to finish the journey.  That was drama #2 taken care of!

We then headed into town to register for the race, attend the GB team briefing and take part in the team photos (we even managed to get Mark to stand impatiently for a few seconds in the group shots).

The next morning was race day and I woke unusually relaxed.  I think the mixture of working in the previous week with Kim Ingleby (my NLP coach) and a lack of expectation for my own part (I know full well I qualified towards the back of the pack, so my main goals were simply to enjoy the race and not come last!) really took the pressure off. 

Bikes loaded, we arrived in town and were walking the 1km or so from the car park to transition when Rachael announced “F*ck, I’ve forgotten my timing chip!”.  Rather than shout abuse at Rach for her stupidity, Mark and I simply looked at each and other and said in synchronisation “Sh*t, so have I”.  Three supposedly experienced athletes and not a single timing chip between us!  Welcome to drama #3!

We ran into transition, spent about 30 seconds setting up bikes, shoes and helmets and then ran all the way back to the car (not the most ideal warm up!) and headed back to hotel to grab chips.  We got back to the race just in time for Rachael to head to her start.  Mark and I had a few more minutes to prepare, but it was far from the calm mentally-focused warm up I was hoping for! 

My wave was exclusively Brits and Irish - a real shame that the rest of Europe didn't turn up to play - especially since the Brits and Irish are always well represented when the races are on the continent. Yah boo sucks to you guys is all I can say!

The Race

Knowing “my place” I elected to start the first 10km run mid-pack and the first kilometre was reasonably quick, the pace aided by the first 600m or so all being downhill.  A lot of the guys in my wave started pretty quickly, but mindful of not wanting to blow up on the first of three legs, I watched my pace fairly closely and allowed myself to fall towards the back of the run pack. The four-lap run course was in the city centre and well supported by onlookers (thank you to the very accommodating locals who were kind enough to shout ‘Go GB’).  I managed to maintain a pretty steady pace through the 10km and this paid off as I pulled a few places back from guys who had gone off too hard.  I crossed the line into Transition 1 in 40:15, not bad for me and good to see the run course was almost 100% accurate in terms of length (Duathlons and Triathlons are notorious for having inaccurate run and cycle lengths).

Transition 1 went smoothly and I was out in under a minute and a semi-flying bike mount saw me instantly making up places.  My race ‘strategy’ was to go balls-out on the bike and I was soon passing other competitors.  The technical nature of some sections of the course suited me pretty well, and I was carving through the field both on the straights and at the hairpin turns.   The new seat position felt good and I was getting good power down – but as usual I was having to ‘spin’ at 90-92 cadence to be comfortable, I just couldn’t grind into the wind at less than 88 rpm without really feeling it in my quad muscles.

I could see Mark (started 5 minutes behind me) had, as expected, eaten into my lead on the run and was about 80 seconds or so behind me on lap one of the five-lap bike course.  I just kept my head and pushed on as hard as I could.  Apart from being passed by the odd (mostly GB) super-speedy cyclist, I felt like the bike was going well (I even managed to chug down a carb gel on one of the straights) and it was half-way through lap four before Mark caught me coming up to a dead turn.  I was surprised and pleased to see it took him a long time to pull away from me, confirming my bike pace was pretty good.

By lap five my legs were pretty shot.  The headwind on the back straight was getting stronger and I was struggling to grind a high gear against it.  It was actually a pretty big relief to get towards the end of the final lap and near Transition 2.  There was a slight problem, though, as I was caught in traffic and didn’t trust myself (or those around me) to do my usual removal of feet from cycling shoes.  As such, I made a late decision to go into T2 with my cycling shoes on my feet and make the change to running shoes in transition.  This undoubtedly cost me a bit of time as it has become alien to me.  My bike came in at about 61:30 for the 38km; not bad for me given the windy conditions and two dead-stops on the course.

Nevertheless, I was out onto the run pretty much neck and neck with an Irish guy in my age group.  I focused on what I had mentally rehearsed with Kim Ingleby and relaxed my upper body, concentrated on breathing and tried to get a good running cadence going (managed two out three, just couldn’t get my legs turning over as fast as I wanted!).  The Irish guy pulled away a little but was never out of sight. 

I never really ‘enjoy’ the second run but I felt stronger than normal and just concentrated on running my own race.  With about 1km to go I could see my ‘opponent’ had blown up a little so I concentrated on digging a little deeper and managed to surge past him with 800m or so to go.  Onto the bridge across the River Shannon that served as the finishing straight and I could see a group of GB supporters handing out Union Flags to GB competitors.  As I had promised myself, I collected my flag, sprinted as hard as I could muster and crossed the line with my best effort at a smile and with a sub 19-minute last run (the 5km was a good 500m short, unfortunately – so no official new 5km PB!).

Overall time was 02:02:46 – no trouble at all to the front runners, but good enough for 17th out 34 in my age group, so not a disgrace to the GB suit either. I met with Mark and Rach in the finishing area and we were all smiles, knowing we’d had good races.

For me, it was just something very special to wear the blue GB suit and to have well-wishers shouting ‘Go GB!’ as I went past.  I also tried to do my ‘team’ bit, giving encouragement to those guys I passed on the run and bike – it felt much more like a team effort than the all-for-yourself qualification races at home.

After the race I chatted briefly with Danielle Stewart (fastest female overall), Lee Rankin (Gold Medal – M35-39) and a few other fantastic GB athletes.  What struck me was how pleasant and ‘normal’ the really good guys are – no superiority complexes, just down-to-earth yet amazing athletes.  Well done to all in team GB who medalled. I am in awe of you all.


Saturday afternoon saw Mark and I take a gentle 30-minute shakedown run and then on Sunday morning we cycled back into town to watch the ‘open’ race (a 3km/20km/3km race open to all entrants).  My twitter friend Sharon (@smcgui) was competing, so we looked out for her and tried to shout encouragement on the bike and second run legs – I’m not sure she realised it was us, but hopefully it helped!

We then went touring the Irish country roads on TT bikes – an interesting decision!  Shakes, rattles and sore bums aside, the scenery was amazing and we met up with some local cyclists and got a nice little chain gang going (until I got told off for going too hard up a hill!).

We then watched part of the Elite womens race, which with a field of only seven athletes was frankly a little disappointing.

Then it was time to head home, finally getting into bed at 4am this morning.  Now all I need to do is finalise my presentation for the SDITS exhibition tomorrow morning and then get my ass into London this afternoon.  The life of the Age Grouper athlete is anything but glamorous! 

Thanks to Joan Lennon at British Triathlon for managing the team in Limerick; thanks to the ETU/ITU for a very well-run event and big thanks to all that shouted support on the course.  Thanks also to Mark and Rach for letting me occupy the third space in the car and for all their encouragement – without them I wouldn’t have been in Limerick this weekend.

I hope I will get another chance to wear blue again in 2011, and if not I am all the more determined to do it in 2012!



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Matt Fisher runs - so it's all his fault! He pretends to be a triathlete, but really he is a husband, father and company VP. But he has raced for the GB Age Group squad a few times and is a two-times qualifier for the IM70.3 world champs


  • smcgui Tuesday, 19 April 2011

    Great report, well done! Thanks for the cheers, I realised about 500m up the road it was you when I was on the bike 2nd lap! Brain wasn't working too well with lack of oxygen!:p

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