ETU Middle Distance Champs 2018. Sun, sand and storms.

The European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships were held on the Spanish Island of Ibiza this year as part of the ETU Multi-sport festival. The race acted as the weeks finale and was held in Ibiza old town, on the South East coast of the Island. I had targeted this race as one I could do well in, particularly after a solid block of training in my new home of Dubai. I’ve never been in better shape, no injuries, no excuses. Friday, the day before race day was a brilliant sunny day, warm and calm which made the rumours of Saturdays incoming storm hard to believe. Unfortunately though, the weather man was not wrong and late morning on Saturday a storm came straight over the island bringing thunder, lightning and torrential rain. The race was scheduled to start at 13:30, people began to rack their bikes from 10am onwards and were getting completely soaked in the process, adding stress onto their day that they didn’t need to. I found a shelter near transition, made a pillow from my wetsuit and had a nap. A late start was something I’d not experienced before and was a bit of an unknown to me in terms of how to fuel it. I decided to eat a good size breakfast at 8, then take on a bit more food at 11ish and just drink a carb drink until the race start. 30 min before race start I began my warm up and felt great, no issues. Then an announcement was made, race was delayed until 15:00 and the bike would be cut to one 40km loop. Mentally dealing with this wasn’t an issue, I was happy to race in a storm, some of my favourite ever bike rides and runs have been in storms. Others didn’t seem so happy and a lot of stress was being created. At this point I’d just like to give Kudos to the Team GB manager Brent Perkins. I’m not afraid to say the organisers of this race were absolutely useless, communication was next to nothing and the organisation was terrible but our team manager Brent seemed to be able to understand them and got every message and detail back to us which was a huge, huge help. A 2 hour delay made me relax again and I decided I needed to eat, off to Lidl to grab food. 6 rice cakes & a small banana, coconut and strawberry smoothie. My theory on the food was, 6 rice cakes was similar in carb and kcal content of what I would eat during exercise and the smoothie I would drink slowly in the 2nd hour to keep glycogen stores topped up. 1.5hrs later I started my warm up again and felt good to go. 10 mins before the start had my usual caffeine gel, line up on the start line, gun goes, we are racing… Exiting the water I felt normal, It was a long transition and the complete mess of the transition tent didn’t give me any time to think how I was feeling, helmet on, race for the bike, mount line, don't fall off, press go on the Garmin and start pushing pedals. 5 min into the bike was the first time I’d take on nutrition, I pour all my gels into one bottle and just take sips every 20 min. It’s been my system for 3 years. As soon as I swallowed, I vomited it straight back up, tried again, vomited again. My mind thought, Its only a 40km bike, I should have enough fuel in me to get through it and I can just take on more fuel earlier in the run. The rest of the bike was great and I came into T2 in 24th place overall. T2 was another fairly long transition and between dismount and the tent I got what I thought was a simple stitch, put it down to not fueling or drinking for the past hour and cracked on. Shoes and hat on, gels into pocket, run time. 10 min into the run the stitch still hadn’t gone and was getting worse, I knew I had to get fuel on but was worried it was just going to come straight back up again. I got to the first aid station on the first loop and decided to try coke as it is known for settling stomachs. Managed a mouthful of coke while running, spilled the rest and carried on. A few minutes later at about 20 mins I just forced myself to have a gel, a further few mins later and I had a stitch like I’ve never had before, every step sent a pain from my lower stomach up to underneath my rib cage. Along with this, a sudden realisation of ‘I’m going to shit myself’ came to me. I ran through the next aid station shouting ‘Toilet!?’ no one knew...So I spent the next 2km trying to figure out where the course toilets were but was having zero luck. Finally at the top of a climb up to the old town fort I had to dive off course into the quietest looking cafe I could find and plead with the staff to tell me where the toilet was. Hopes for doing well in this race, over… I race to compete, not to take part. I absolutely want to do the best I can 100% of the time. A few mins after going into the cafe I was back on course and set about the task of making up the places I had lost, it wasn’t even a thought in my head. However, it took a matter of seconds before the stitch came back and I knew I had a decision to make. DNF or carry on for a painful 15km. I remember 3 things stuck in my mind for the next 15km;
  1. My boss Marcus will (A) Rinse me if I quit and (B) Is only on day 2 of his 30 marathons in 30 days, I can get through this if he’s going to get through that.
  2. Jan Frodeno, Kona 2017.
  3. My fellow IFE coach Flanners and his race at the IM 70.3 WC in SA. He had to walk the run due to a foot injury, he said the crowd think they are supporting you by cheering you on but actually it’s just humiliating. He walked the run down to principle as the race meant something personal to him. So I made the race personal to me, and not walking was the new goal.
Basically the next hour was spent understanding the differences between a stitch and a stomach cramp, subtle differences.. 10km to go and I attempted to drink water which came straight back up, 7km to go I tried coke again, didn’t come back up but with 3km to go I was hurdling the barrier and making a bee line for the Marine Cafe’s toilets (ladies, as men's was occupied). Back on course and I finally get to follow the finish arrow instead of the lap arrow. Cross the line, ask a medic where the toilet is, which, of course he doesn’t know, finally find it and celebrate the race being over with a vomit. I don't know what caused the stomach problems, I certainly never want to experience it ever again, so will speak with a sports nutritionist to find out what could have caused it. I was massively disappointed with the result and felt I’d let down a lot of people who support me. I used the 24 hour rule post race, and as of midnight the following day there is no more sulking about it. Learn from it, move on and as always #noweakness   By: Tom Walker, Endurance Coach