Last week, Team JMC’s Alex Lawton won a silver medal at the European Triathlon Age Group Championships in Alanya, Turkey. As you can imagine, we’re delighted. and so is Alex. Here’s what he has to say about it…
Last Friday’s (14th June) European Age Group championship race in Alanya (Turkey) was the first ‘Big One’ of 2013. Each year age group/amateur triathletes have the opportunity to race at the European and World Championships. Each athlete is required to qualify and this typically requires a top 4 finish in an athlete’s age group, at one of three specified races.
I qualified last July and so this race has been in the very distant horizon for a long time. Despite this the first bit of good news regarding this event was actually getting to Turkey with a bike and the required Team GB kit. A few weeks before the event an email was sent informing all racers that a number of airlines had oversold their bike carrying capacity. It seems most airlines weren’t expecting a deluge of passengers + bicycles to descend on Turkey in such a short time period. Whilst some were forced to ship their bikes overland, fortunately our flight wasn’t affected and the required GBR tri-suit ordered in April was delivered just a few days before I was due to fly.
It was great to have the company of Lex Hughes (fellow Manchester Tri Club member) who had also qualified for the race. Our taxi pulled up at 4am and I can’t fault the driver’s optimism about fitting two huge bike boxes into the modest sized estate car. After some creative re-arrangements we managed to close the boot just enough to get on our way to the airport.
After touching down in Antalya we hopped on a coach for the 140km drive east along the coast to Alanya. We had decided to keep clear of the hustle and bustle of the ‘Official’ Team GB hotel and based ourselves just a short walk away from race venue. With the race on Friday we had the best part of 3 days to kill and I don’t think I’ve slept or done quite as little in those few days since I had the luxury of being a student. Apart from the pre-requisite race briefing, bike building, and course recce our days consisted of lots of sleeping to pass the time between eating from the open buffet (resisting the free alcohol and desserts until after the race was done of course). Time crept by and I couldn’t wait to get started come Friday morning.
The hotel had kindly offered to provide us with an early 4am packed breakfast on race day. Gherkins and tomato were probably not the best pre-race option and so we stuck to the bread/banana/peanut butter/Nutella combo we’d brought from the supermarket as a backup. We snoozed through the next couple of hours before downing a couple of coffees and making the short trip to the race start at 6am.
At the start we made the final checks of the bikes, got marked with our race numbers and headed to the water. My age group (25-29), the 18-19 and 20-24 were bundled together and first off at 7am. About 70 of us were lined up and counted down onto the pontoon jetting out into the sea. At the previous days race briefing we were told that we would be starting from in the water rather than diving from the pontoon. Somewhere this had got lost in translation and as we stood on the pontoon ready to drop into the water we heard the ‘On Your Marks’ shortly followed by the starting hooter!
I dived in and tried to set off quickly try to get in a strong swim pack. The warm sea temperatures meant the swim was a non-wetsuit affair and this made the whole experience a lot more enjoyable than those in the UK. I knew if I could put in a good swim leg my stronger bike and run should put me in with a good chance of a high finish. I took a few sighting strokes and spotted Hamish Shaw about 10 metres ahead of me, another British triathlete who I’ve raced against before in the UK. He’s a good swimmer and after a short sprint I managed to bridge the gap and swim in his slipstream. This was my best chance for a good swim time and would also save me a lot of energy. I think this was the first time I’ve actually properly enjoyed the swim leg of a triathlon. The sun, warm water, lack of wetsuit (which I always find tires my arms out more than usual) and confidence that I was feeling good and on for a good time was great. I came out of the water in 7th place and knew that I would climb higher up on the bike and run. Credit also to Lex who was first out of the water in his age group!
The bike course was a flat and fast 4 lap out and back loop along the sea front. But before I even got on the bike minor disaster #1 presented itself. As I put my foot down to climb onto the bike my left shoe became detached from the pedal. I climbed off, leant my bike against the railings and put the shoe back on before I could get underway again. I’d just about settled into a bit of a rhythm before minor disaster #2. The course was flat but bumpy, with much of the surface made up of small brick style slabs. We’d ridden the course in the days leading up to the event but this time, before I even had chance to rinse the sea water from my mouth, my one and only source of fuel/fluid popped out its bottle cage and into the gutter. It was a split second decision and I decided to carry on rather than lost time stopping, turning around, and riding back to collect the bottle. After a few select words to myself I actually laughed to myself about the situation. I don’t think anyone would think about doing a triathlon without anything to eat or drink; now I had to one without anything in 25C heat at a European Championship.
At the end of the first lap I took the sharp right hand turn faster than I should’ve done and came dangerously close to clipping the feet of the barrier and probably crashing out of the race. The first 2 laps weren’t pretty as the sea water and heat began to take its effect and I could feel my mouth getting drier and drier. The cobbles had also dislodged the bike speedometer and after reaching down the front forks to re-align it, the next set of cobbles would knock it back out again. This meant all my pacing on the bike was done on feel as opposed to average speed or lap times. By the 3rd and 4th lap I was surprised as I began to feel better, but the lack of speedometer meant I couldn’t determine if I was still riding at a good pace or slowing down due to lack of anything to drink. I turned off after the final lap and got a shout telling me that I was in 5th position. I racked my bike and slipped on the run shoes and set off on the 4 x 2.5km run course.
Hallelujah! The first water station was just out of transition. I emptied one bottle over my head and did my best to drink without slowing down too much. I usually go out fast on the run and keep pushing until the end but the combination of not drinking on the bike and the heat meant I was a lot more conservative than I normally would be as the last thing I wanted was to crash and burn halfway through. I passed one person on the first lap and could see another about 100m ahead.
At every opportunity I’d take some water and chuck the rest over my head, surprised that I was still feeling half decent. Each lap began with a flat run down the sea front before a sharp 100m climb before looping down through the winding streets. The narrow streets provided some much appreciated shade before chucking you out back into the blazing sun. All of sudden I had passed another GB racer and was confident that this should definitely put me in a medal position. By my 4th and final lap the course had filled up with others coming in off the bike and so I could be sure who was in front of me overall. I passed some more runners out on their earlier laps and almost before I knew it I was turning off for the finishing straight. I crossed the finish line and was declared silver medallist for the 25-29 age group!
I shuffled into the athletes lounge and dropped into the ice filled paddling pool. Lex finished soon after with a great 10th position in his age group, and Alan Burton (also Manchester Tri Club) finished 22nd in his build up for Ironman UK. After I few hours the results were confirmed and it was time to enjoy the sun and free beer!
We headed back down the award ceremony that evening where we were presented with medals and the whole experience definitely gives you the motivation to do keep training well and aim for one better next time.
I didn’t have any set expectations before the race. Unlike something like football where you can look at a league table, previous results, form etc. and come to a good understanding of what a good result is, you never quite know the calibre of who you’re lining up against in a triathlon. If you told me a year ago that I’d get a silver medal at this race I would’ve laughed. But a year is a long time and a lot of hard work, a great training environment in Manchester with Man Tri Club, Team JMC and Physio Andy Chalmers has helped see some small gains made which have contributed to some good results so far this year.
The next real focus is the World Age Group Championships in London this September, but until then there are still a few more races to look forward to staring with the National Age Group Championships this Saturday.