Blog: A hot and brutal war of attrition at the European Middle Distance Champs

GB age-grouper Peter Whent races in brutal conditions in Mallorca last month – and is never so happy to cross a finish line...

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At the start of this season, GB honours hadn’t even entered my thinking. My single goal for the season was to finish Ironman UK.

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But then in June at the Outlaw Half I had one of those races where everything clicked and I ended up on the podium and qualified in my age group to race for GB at the European Middle Distance Triathlon Championships in Paguera-Majorca in October.

Race week kicked off on Thursday with a GB team bike ride to recce the course and get in a practice swim. The general consensus was that the bike course offered the potential for fast times, but the swim course was less inviting. On Thursday there was a big swell with breaking waves. It is never a good sign to see people surfing on the swim course two days before an event, although the forecast was for calm conditions on race day.

Fast forward 24 hours and I am standing on Playa Tora, the main beach in Paguera, staring out at a flat calm sea. The race start is scheduled for noon, the hottest part of the day. Already the temperature is well into the 20s and the wind has died. We brace ourselves for a roasting.

The swim

Everything starts spot on time so at 12.15pm exactly the hooter sounds and about 100 of us in my wave (all male age groups over 40) make a 20 yard dash to the sea followed by a free-for-all. I position myself to the side to avoid the washing machine.

Conditions couldn’t have been better for the 1.9km swim. The water is flat and beautifully clear and I can see all of the marine life below me – what’s not to like?! I find space early on and quickly settle into a rhythm. Once round the turning buoy at about 950m I have a good second half of the swim and get towed along by a Danish guy.

At the swim exit a red carpet leads us uphill for 300m from the beach to T1. I arrive at my bike with my heart racing.

The bike

I take a while to settle into a rhythm on the bike. Unfortunately the first and only hill of note on the bike course arrives before the rhythm! This hill had seemed easy on the recce ride but I make hard work of it today. Most of the rest of the course is rolling or flat with plenty of opportunity to settle onto the aero bars and establish some rhythm.

We pass through the holiday resort of Palmanova. Wearing a GB tri suit gets me some passionate patriotic support from spectators who probably haven’t been up long. The support puts a smile on my face for the next 10 minutes!

One last hill and a descent takes us back to Paguera and the end of lap one. Halfway and I am on for a sub-3 hour bike split – that would do nicely. But things are never that simple. The hills and the heat take it out of me on the second lap and eventually I pull into T2 after 3.09hrs.

The run

I head out on to the run in an optimistic mood. The run is my favourite discipline. However today I know almost immediately that I am in trouble. There’s nothing in the tank.

As I run along the beach front I genuinely wonder how I am going to complete a half-marathon. Then the rational side of my brain takes over. As I mentally retrace my steps on the bike leg and I can’t remember drinking a lot – muppet!

I reach the first feed station and take a salt tablet, a gel and drink as much water as I dare. I do the same at the next two feed stations. By midway through the second lap a little energy returns and things look up.

The hill that we had thought little of on the recce run proves to be a monster under race conditions. By the second lap there is a long queue of people walking up it – even pros. It’s not the gradient that’s the problem, it’s the heat. The thermometer outside the pharmacy on the run course says 36°C – the heat is just sucking the energy out of the race.

By the third lap things get worse. People are stepping off the race course and quitting. I see a GB team mate sitting on the kerb by a feed station, her race over. The medical team is working overtime and people are being blue lighted off to hospital. By any standards conditions are brutal.

The race becomes a war of attrition. I don’t know if it is the tri suit I am wearing or just a stubborn streak, but I stick to the task. I promise myself that I won’t walk up the hill, but as a reward I walk through the feed stations – slowly!

Despite the conditions the atmosphere in Paguera is incredible. There’s GB support everywhere. By the fourth lap I am feeling alright (everything is relative!!). My last lap turns out to be my fastest and I gain two places in my age group in the final 5k.

Finally after what seems like the longest afternoon of my life, I run into the finish area which includes lap of honour around the main square. The atmosphere is great. I think the crowd understands the ordeal we have been through. I have never been so pleased to cross a finish line.

My finish time is 6.13hrs and gives me 12th place out of 23 in my age group. Not my fastest 70.3 by some way, but it is one I am proud of. Proud that I was representing my country and I don’t think I let the side down – that was very important to me. But also proud of the way I came back from adversity on the run to finish well. I am also pleased just to have finished. It was without question the hardest middle distance race I have done.

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Did you race Challenge Paguera-Mallorca? Let us know in the comments below!