Challenge Poznan – ETU Long Course Championships

This race was my main reason for heading to Poland. In fact, alongside the event in September in Austria, you could say it was one of the main reasons for dreaming up this campervan idea in the first place.

Following last year’s ETU champs in Weymouth, and the fantastic day I had then, I had a vision of going from strength to strength, having a winter of solid training, PB’ing London Marathon and coming out here to really ‘race’.

Well…the best laid plans and all that… My winter was not what I would have hoped for, and certainly was not conducive to consistent endurance training. I was ill on and off for most of November to May. Can’t say why exactly but obviously my immune system was trying to tell me something! Needless to say I came to Poland without any high hopes for the race ahead. Finishing was the goal and enjoying it so that I didn’t send myself down again into ill health. There’s one thing being ill at home, but being ill in a campervan at the start of what is meant to be a great ‘holiday’ wasn’t something I fancied.

Arriving in Poland early (four days before the event) gave me a chance to relax, get the lie of the land and do all the pre-race admin without stress – register, kit sort, bike rack, race briefing. My campsite was ideally located to the race start and transition area – this makes race morning a whole lot easier, and supposedly race evening too. Considering I’d not really studied the race details before booking the campsite, this was a pleasant fluke.

The day before the race, I was woken early by the tannoy system at the lake announcing the start of the sprint and Olympic distance races taking place on the Saturday. Not ideal for my lie-in plans but listening to the emotive music and start guns, as well as the hideously americanesque motivational announcements, got my race nerves in full swing.

I spent the morning preparing my gear – my bike, a bag for bike stuff in transition one, a bag for run stuff in transition two, a bag for after the event (the finish line was about 5k from the campsite), my wetsuit and my on-course food and drinks (us triathletes like to call it nutrition but that’s a bit ponsey so food and drink will do). There is one thing you can’t accuse triathlon of and that’s not having enough kit.

Race briefing was at 3pm. I wandered over, met the 35-strong GB crew and we all listened patiently (with a marquee full of other athletes) to the dual-language briefing. This went on some time, as you can imagine. It was lovely to meet and chat to British Pro Laura Siddall at the briefing. Only a week before she had become one of a handful of British female triathletes to go sub 9 hours for an ironman (that’s rapid) and was here, just a week later, to race the half ironman event. Chapeau (and she won it!). Team photo out of the way, along with bike racking and handing in the ‘bike’ and ‘run’ bags, it was back to the van for a carb loading dinner and early-ish night.

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Now, when I’d arrived at the campsite the place did not resemble a triathlete village. Most of the clientele didn’t seem that ‘sort’, but come Friday things had changed. The average age of my fellow campers was significantly reduced and there was far more lycra and rubber around. I got chatting to my new next door neighbours, a couple from the south of Poland, Roman & Margaret. Roman was himself to compete in the long course event and his wife, daughter and prize-winning dog Jonny, had come along to support. Roman kindly invited me to share a glass of wine with them once they’d returned from the organised pasta party (no point me going, can’t eat pasta…) and I accepted willingly, clearly. A little glass of red the night before a big race helps you sleep. Roman said so and he’s a cardiac surgeon so he should know.

The next morning it was a 5 am alarm call. I uncurled myself from the roof bed and came ‘downstairs’ to breakfast. I’d made a bircher museli type thing that I’d soaked overnight in the fridge – you know, oats, seeds, blueberries, that type of thing – and when I opened the fridge all did not seem in order. It wasn’t that cold. Let’s be honest, that IS the key function of a fridge isn’t it?

Needless to say, it’s not really what I needed at 5am before an event that was likely to take half a day at least. I fiddled with my mains cable, read the one page instructions on the power management system I’d bought with me and then decided there was nothing I could do about it there and then so I ate my warm museli, washed down with a cup of tea, and set about applying sun cream.

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Roman and me before the swim

Down on the lake side we all gathered like a bed of eels (I had to look up the collective noun for eels specially) waiting for our respective start times: pro men at 6.45, pro women 6.50, Euro champs men 7.00, and my wave, Euro champs women at 7.05, with all the other long course athletes going off in waves after us.

I wasn’t entirely convinced my sun cream application was sufficient so I sought out a fellow Brit who kindly covered me in more – I really did not want a weeks worth of not being able to sleep on my back.

It was all jolly and relaxed on the start line and as the men went off, my wave entered the water and swam towards our start line.

Then the gun.

The swim was lovely. Great sighting, no waves, fresh water and, as it turns out, about 800m too short. Poor mistake to make at the European champs but can’t be helped now. I felt I’d had a good swim (I didn’t know it was short at that point) but when I got to Transition 1 I was slightly dismayed to see a lot of the ‘bike’ bags had already gone from the hooks.

Transition 1 was fine, except for some reason I ended up in the men’s changing tent (along with some other ladies) and once I’d wrestled my wetsuit off I looked up to be greeted by a completely naked, hairy backside. I can only assume this competitor (male I might add) had worn nothing under his wetsuit. Nice. Needless to say I dashed out of there as quick as I could and towards my bike to have my dismay added to when it was confirmed that yes, the bikes bags were gone, and so were the bikes. Maybe my swim hadn’t been so good after all.

The bike was, as predicted, a fast course but monotonous. Four 45km loops on a dual carriageway. The upside of this is that at each end, where you switch back, you can keep an eye on fellow competitors and judge your placing. The almost 6 hour ride went quite quickly to be fair. Come the start of the fourth lap I knew I was empty though. I just did not have the muscular endurance to ‘race’ this ironman. That only comes from months and months of consistency which I have not had. But I was content with my sub-6 hour ride considering everything, and pleased to hand my bike over at Transition 2 and stiffly jog to my ‘run’ bag.

Then the run. What can I say? In recent years it’s become my strength but not on Sunday. Not in that humid heat, on tired legs, with poor preparation. I can only describe it as a slog, and a long one at that. The looping, multi terrain route took us through and around Poznań old town and environs, four times. I particularly enjoyed running on the cobbles and across ‘Suicide Bridge’ – christened not by me, but by another GB athlete who said he wanted to throw himself off it each time he got there. I just found it hard. And my time reflects that. But my goal was to finish, and I certainly did so. I have never DNF’d at a race and though I was exceedingly keen to on Sunday, I refused to.

I crossed the line in 11.39.02. Not a PB, not a podium, but a job done. And almost both aims achieved: 1) to finish and 2) to enjoy it. I can’t say I particularly ‘enjoyed’ the run but it was great training for my head and a good lesson on how to dig in and get on with it even when your body tells you not to.

The post-race cold shower in Poznań city centre was most welcome, though the food on offer in the recovery area was less so (burgers and pizza), so, along with some others, I went and sat in the main square to cheer on the competitors still coming in. Prize giving was to be at 10pm and I wanted to stay to support the British people who’d won medals, but my fatigue and the enormous din at the finish line left me feeling pretty spaced out – dizzy and queasy. I jumped on the bus that was taking people back to the start at the lake, about 5km away and went and collected my bike, swim kit and bike bag. The aftermath of a triathlon is always such a grind. Wet everything; filthy, sticky bike, bottles and kit. And I wasn’t in the mood.

I got back to the van with all this stuff and opened up. I felt utterly empty and in need of lying down. Then I noticed, on my electrical control panel, the polarity light was on. What’s this you ask? And so did I… I vaguely recall the guys at West Country Conversions warning me about potential issues of reverse polarity on the Continent but I wasn’t really listening properly, preferring to marvel at the way the bikes fitted in the back of the van so neatly. The polarity thing is something to do with us Brits wiring neutral and live (or is it earth and live?) differently to our European cousins and it causes some kind of electrical hitches. Even now, after a number of lengthy Google searches, I can’t really explain what it is, and though I am sure it is simple physics, my ironman brain over the last few days has refused to let me get it.

It reminded me about the fridge issue in the morning. I didn’t need this. I couldn’t focus, I could hardly think straight. Because I didn’t know what to do, or whether it would cause damage, I unplugged my cable from the mains unit. I went to ask at reception. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I checked my leisure battery. Too low to make the fridge work. I picked up my head torch. Didn’t work. I got my hand held torch out, new batteries in it and everything. Didn’t work. I wanted to cry. There I was feeling grim, surrounded by filthy kit, on my own, at almost midnight the day of an ironman at a van that I’ve only just got and a dawning realisation that I don’t really know how to use it. I might even have cried a bit. I was exhausted.

So I did the only thing I could do. Chucked the gear in the van, bike and all, pulled down the roof bed, gingerly clambered up into it and passed out.

Waking on Monday I was surprised to find I could actually extricate myself from the roof. I was welcomed into the space below by all manner of equipment that I then spent the morning sorting out. I asked Roman about the reverse polarity thing. He didn’t know about it either, so Google was consulted and a number of other sources. Long story short, I think I’ve got it sorted, or at least know what I need to do to remedy things, and the fridge is working again now the leisure battery is back to charge. Like I said, simple physics but not on an ironman brain.

Monday and Tuesday have been restful days of relaxation and eating. A particularly enjoyable evening in the town square last night with the remnants of the GB team saw us taking advantage of the very keen drinks prices here in Poznań and reliving the race step by painful step, as is customary with fellow athletes after any sporting event.

And I now have a mini plan for tomorrow! I head to Katowice in southern Poland to stay an evening with Roman and Margaret who have kindly invited me to visit 🙂

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8 thoughts on “Challenge Poznan – ETU Long Course Championships

  1. Gosh – that all sounds dreadful! The only way is up with the van though – and how brilliant to be invited to stay. That is the great thing about your sort of travel “plans”!

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  2. Throughly gripping read! It was like I was there with you and felt your despair about the late night fridge realisation.

    More please….maybe you should turn this into a book? Your writing really is captivating!

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  3. We feel so bad that one of us was not with you to help and support. It was only seeing the results page that I discovered that Poznan has its own airport. I would not have been much help with the electricity but I could have looked after the kit. Fantastic race report. We are still in Fleet but that is another story. Love M and D

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    • Its ok – I managed and I’m sure I’ll have to manage with worse (though I hope not). I did get an escort on the bus home from another GB athlete who kept me with-it enough to pick up all the right bags etc! Thanks Lawrence.

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  4. All the highs and lows so vividly described. I was with you there after the night of the race, brain befuddled and batteries too. A great read, Helene x

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