On 16 June 2014 In Triathlon News

At the end of May, the XTERRA junkies of the BRAT Club (Derek Hardy, Claire Hotchkiss and Russ Hall) headed out to Spain to see what the Spanish off road triathlon scene could offer. As it turned out what was on offer was frustration, chaos and more than the fair share of adventure. Before reading the rest of this article, it’s important to note that our experience in Spain does not reflect on the usual high standard of XTERRA events.

So where to begin? The catalogue of failures and organisational errors is long... The event website did not give times for registration or racking. The swim was placed in a bay that the Spanish coastguards had deemed unsafe to hold any kind of swim race, so our triathlon became a duathlon. The Spanish Triathlon Federation (FETRI) and the International Triathlon Union (ITU) were not present at registration, so race licences weren’t checked, instead we were asked to provide them as we made our way into the first transition when we were racking bikes. No one had the licences with them as there isn’t much space in a trisuit for a race licence, so we were asked to present them after the race or any results wouldn’t count. Simple, but when we presented them after the race we were told that now we needn’t bother. The bike course was poorly marshalled, which led to the locals taking shortcuts and aid stations just weren’t where they should be. The race briefing for those of us that could find it was only given in Spanish, until some Canadian racers reminded the organisers that a good portion of the field weren’t actually from Spain (29 nationalities were represented!). Added to that there was 300m of trail at the furthest point of the bike course that was covered in glass, but somehow it was deemed as safe by the organisers and officials.

The course itself had the potential to be incredible. The first run was a 4km out and back route over a hill which climbed for 1km in each direction. And boy, did it climb, 180m in the first kilometre! The first descent on the bike course was called “20 clavicles hill” – steep, rocky and with thorn bushes for good measure, not for the faint hearted and only ridden by 10% of the field. After that there was a huge ascent (250m of vertical climbing in 1.5km) which led to a fast and fun bike course, apart from the afore mentioned glass and some drop offs lined with exposed concrete steel reinforcing spikes. The final run course was the jewel in the crown though, 9.2km of twisty steep hilly single track and if the single track didn’t finish you off then the roman road (think Belgian pave on steroids) would.

As you can imagine it was with more than a little trepidation that we lined up for the race start. The field had been cut dramatically due to crashes in practice on the bike course and the disorganisation of the event. In the end only 150 of the 250 entrants lined up for the race. The race itself started 20 minutes late as FETRI and the ITU argued over the layout of the first transition. Once under way all was well and the race went smoothly until the front of the field came back towards the second transition area. With about 2km of the bike course left to ride, the front of the field was redirected up a path where bikes could not be ridden, caused by a massive mistake by the marshals; this affected the first third of the field. Places were lost and the second transition filled up with very angry athletes.

Running out of T2 were a mixture of pro athletes and age groupers of all abilities. At the end of the race the professional athletes were refusing to stand on the podium out of protest. Age groupers hoping for qualifying spots for the world XTERRA championships in Maui were left disappointed and unsure about what would happen. With so many people affected by the marshalling mistakes the XTERRA World representatives decided that all results would stand otherwise the whole race would be null and void. Not all was lost for BRAT however; Derek and Claire got podium places and will most likely be qualified for a place in Maui. I (Russ) came 7th and may well still get a qualifying spot, only time will tell.

Despite the tale of woe, it has to be said that the weekend away at the race was great fun. It was hot, hard work racing in Spain and in a couple of years we have no doubt that the race will be back on and well organised. It was great to catch up with old friends and fellow XTERRA racers from around the world. As we reminded ourselves on the way home, XTERRA is supposed to be an adventure and we certainly had one!

By Russ Hall

On 22 May 2014 In Triathlon News

With the fourth running of the Mallorca Ironman 70.3, it was time for Birmingham's finest triathletes to head to Alcudia to show the Europeans how to race! A contingent of 25+ racers and supporters travelled on the Thursday before the race. All were looking forward to making the most of the race on Saturday, but more importantly the drinking post-race! The squad included Mallorca first timers, repeat offenders and one "ever present" (Derek Hardy) comprising a good mix of BRAT participants and experience at the event.

The standard bike shakedown on Thursday passed without any major mechanical issues, but there was some concern when Sophie mentioned that she was going to try energy gels for the first time in the race - not generally considered to be the best time to try, but better than her alternative plan of "I'm sure drinking plenty of water will be fine..."

Friday post bike check-in brought the first opportunity for most of us to try wetsuits on and get in the open water. We slipped into our lycra hoping to prove that they still fitted, but for several, they were now a bit loose following a good few months of training prep and some early season weight-loss!

Race day brought the nerves to a head, with the usual mad panic of last minute questions regarding tyre pressures / water bottle locations / fuelling tactic. The well-seasoned tried to calm those new to the distance (except Thanos who needs calming down at every race)! With the pros off first (to show us how it was done) the women quickly followed, then the men in age-group intervals over the next hour.

The BRATs showed their awesome swim strength from the start with Sophie as the 25th woman out of the water, and already 3rd in category. Ciaran Williams was 13th in his age group and Dale Grassby 1st in the 35-39 age group, proving you can't always just "follow the feet in front"!

As we headed towards Lluc (the mountain on route) Russ Williams and Mike Purnell (as part of team Mikey P + Tona) really showed how to put the power down with some great bike splits - clearly the Tuesday night shop ride is the key to bike strength training. Tim's view that Russ W had "stolen" Russ Hall's bike, certainly looked plausible as there was no denying that he was definitely "riding it like he stole it"!

On the run the heat (30c+) really started to have an impact and a long day already meant fluid levels were very low. With the aid stations struggling to cope with the number of athletes, gels / coke / water / orange slices and any other water based foods were rapidly consumed to keep up hydration and energy levels. Great support from Marie-Anne Erven, Jenny Hill and Mark Connell made sure that all BRAT's were cheered as the final laps were counted down and the finish line was finally crossed!

It was a great event with some notable performances. Carol Sinkinson finally completed the event after two years of race entries, and then unfortunately having to with draw last minute through injury or illness. Hazel Padmore continues to improve year on year (despite going in to hospital to have her foot rebuilt only days after returning from the trip), Tanya Daniels and Danielle Bogue showed many of the boys how to really ride! The newly appointed Men’s Triathlon Captain (Chris Ashford) also had a great race finishing 28th overall and 2nd in Age Group. Qualification to the 70.3 World Championships means he will be off to represent the BRAT's in Mont-Tremblant in September (just as soon as he can figure out where Canada is...).

Post race, the team made the most of Mallorca's culinary delights, with some impressive consumption of T-Bone steaks / frozen yoghurt / and local fish dishes to refuel from some hard racing. Knowing how hard-core triathletes like to think that they are, most even managed to get some more riding done during the week, but there was also still plenty of time to enjoy the drinking too!

So if you have made it to the end of the article and are thinking of maybe giving a middle-distance race a go, Mallorca 70.3 is a great event with some great people - let's hope we get even more BRATs there next year!

By Chris Ashford

On 14 April 2014 In Triathlon News

Health warnings first!  I am not very bright.  Do not treat this article as coaching or advice.  If you follow it as such you will embark on a short, painful journey of discovery ending in the realisation that it doesn’t work!

Lack of any discernible intellectual ability is a good starting point for a successful Duathlon career.  None of the grace and guile of swimming, no warm training sessions in the winter, miles and miles of running and a season that lasts from February to April all for the opportunity to compete against,  not other multisporters, but whippet-like runners who can just about hold their own on a bike.  If you were capable of rational, reasoned thought you wouldn’t do it!

Suits me perfectly then! After the Birmingham half I have a little break and then start base building for the start of the Duathlon season in February.  For me this involves doing what I do all year which is to smash the hell out of every session and not really build any base at all.

Dambuster in early March is 1800 competitors and a chance to qualify for the worlds.  10K, 42K, 5K of pain.  I have a wide range of carefully considered race strategies in my armoury.  On this occasion I choose the “smash the hell out of the first run, nearly kill myself on the bike and then hang on” strategy.  After a 35.05 10K I want to stop at the burger van but to my dismay my bike is still in perfect working order in T1 so off on the bike.  Disappointment follows as all the decent runners who took it easy on the first run pass me on the bike barely breathing.  I can look forward though to the delightful sensation of coming off a 10K run followed by a 27 mile TT and trying to run again.  Joy of joys!! Legs will either move very slowly of cramp right up until I resemble Tinman from Wizard of Oz.  They move very slowly and loosen up enough to put in an 18.30 5K which is not enough to qualify!!

Clumber Park at the end of March, 1500 competitors and a second chance to qualify.  I forsake all my other race strategies for the “smash the hell out of the first run, nearly kill myself on the bike and then hang on” one.  Second in the whole wave after the first run (behind Lee Piercy former Elite and age group world champ) A bike leg with wind that created a curious optical illusion on some of the downhill sections and a barely respectable second run was enough to completely nail myself in a way that no other sport can, and qualify for the worlds in so doing.  Duathlon is hard!! It hurts!

Early April and I return to Ashbourne to defend a win that I somehow managed a year before.  Ashbourne! Peak District!!  Thank god for my lack of intellect and inability to think reasonably.

Once again following careful consideration,  “smash the hell out of the first run, nearly kill myself on the bike and then hang on” seems to be the best option.  The undulating run hurts (17.13), the bike leg with the two mile climb (max 20%!) the wind and horizontal rain hurts more but I know I have to find something special for the second run because there is a respectable cyclist/whippet about 30s behind me.  2nd run and at the turn he is closing.  20s at the most.  I can’t do maths at a resting HR but in my physiologically distressed state all I know is that I have to do a bit more than hang on.  This is where duathlon is won and lost.  Who can find the ability to hurt themselves the most on the second run?  I held him off for what I thought was an age group win and a bottle of Blossom Hill. Yay! All the pain, mud and cold melts away and only a hard core of pride remains when you find out that you won all the other age groups as well!!  It may have been because the Ashbourne Duathlon  2014 could not muster another person quite as brainless  but I have my name on the trophy again and I don’t care!

Have a go if you think you’re hard and stupid enough!!

On 15 March 2014 In Triathlon News

Would you like to do an Ironman (or half IM) distance triathlon event LIKE NO OTHER in 2014?  

To support the charity "Kids Like Us", Bridge Events are offering 10 places in the ONLY night time long distance triathlon event in the world!  The race takes place in Dartford, so no need for overnight accommodation!  It starts at 6pm on 16th August and the cut off is 11 am on 17th August.  Check out the website: http://www.bridgetriathlon.co.uk/2013/08/09/midnight-man-2014 (you can do a full IM, a half IM or a quarter IM).

The tickets normal retail for £160 each, but 10 have been donated to the club for AUCTION to raise money for the Kids Like Us Charity to raise money for Children with Arthritis.  The auction will work like this:  each ticket has a reserve of £25.  You can submit a closed bid of any amount above £25 to try to win an entry - just write your name, contact details and the amount of your bid on a piece of paper, put it in an envelope and give it to Tauny Southwood at a club session up to 27th April or at the AGM on 27th April.  The 10 highest bids will each win an entry ticket - the winners will be drawn at the AGM.  This will probably be the most cost effective long distance triathlon you will ever have the opportunity to do - AND you won't have to worry about suntan cream!