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LONG DISTANCE TRIATHLON – EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIPS

Mark Whittle, a Bikefood customer, qualified for the European Long Distance Triathlon Championships earlier in the year, this was to be a 4km swim, followed by a 120km bike and finished off with a 30km run. Here is Mark’s race report:

“We arrived in Finland nice and early (we, being the 4 Royal Air Force guys who had made the team) and had lots of time to recce the swim, bike and run courses. The swim looked very long, the bike looked pretty flat (and boring) whilst the run looked like the only interesting part of the race, sweeping around the beautiful lake through a slightly wooded area with gravel trails.

Race morning soon arrived and we had a quick breakfast in the hotel (muesli, yoghurt, fruit and a Bikefood energy drink) before heading off to the transition area. The race location was very good, with an athletics stadium being used for T1/T2 which was only 5 minutes walk from our hotel, with the lake being adjacent to the stadium. After putting all our nutrition onto our bikes we headed down to the start area. The elite men and women went off first, with the age group men going next (us) and the age group women to follow.

We all jumped into the water and after a minute or two, the horn went and we were off. With less than 200 men in our wave start, there wasn’t the usual biff you get at the start of an Ironman race, I quickly found some open space and headed the 300m or so to the first turn buoy. After this turn, we essentially had to swim in a big rectangle finishing down a canal next to the stadium.

The out leg seemed to take forever! I managed to find some feet to sit on for a while and settled in to a pace that I thought I could hold for 4k. We eventually got to the far turn buoy (maybe 1.8k into the swim leg), turned, swam another 200-300m and turned again for the return and final leg. We were now swimming into a bit of current and the sun was rising in front of us which made navigation a little difficult.

I was starting to feel a little tired now. The current was sapping my energy and the navigation meant sighting was harder, fortunately someone swam up to me, so I jumped on his feet and trusted he was sighting correctly. It seemed his sighting was spot on as we arrived at the mouth of the canal in fairly quick time, I knew it was another 300m or so to go, so decided to stay with my new friend and let him direct me into the exit point. It got a bit congested here and I got a smack round the head for my troubles, but all in all it was an uneventful swim – just what I was hoping for. I stood up, checked my watch and saw 1:06. I was particularly pleased with this as I was expecting to see 1:10 – 1:15. Good start!

Quickly into transition the wetsuit was off and I was ready to exit T2. Out on the bike I went and settled into the aero position and started pushing on, knowing that the slower swimmers would be chasing me hard! Once I settled down I started thinking about my nutrition, I started drinking my Bikefood energy drink and taking on some Bikefood energy gel on every lap. Every other lap I had a bite of my go-too energy bar, my little treat if you like, my mango natural energy bar, delicious!

The bike was 6 laps of 20k and it was a little boring. We biked out of town, onto some fast roads, then onto a motorway for a mile or so, then climbed up a long shallow climb, back down the motorway and into town again. Coupled with that a few dead-turns (which really slowed you down!) and quite a bit of wind, it was not the most exciting of routes.

The laps ticked away and apart from some Spanish pro’s and some Finnish age groupers drafting, it was a very clean bike race. I came towards T2 quite glad the bike leg was over, I checked my watch and saw a bike split of about 3:26, I was ok with that. It wasn’t great, but it was ok, and I had my strongest leg (the run) to come!

The run was 4 laps of 7.5k, so it would be easy to gauge your pace and spot other age groupers and see where they were in the race compared to you on each lap. I set out on the first lap with the intention of going easy. As I was approaching the first turn point (at 3.75k) I was very surprised that I hadn’t caught anyone! This wasn’t normal. Was everyone else really running that fast? Was I running slow? Too slow? I put this to the back of my mind, thought about keeping pace, taking my nutrition and continued on.

As it turned out I shouldn’t have worried as I caught 9 people in the next 3.75k. The pace felt easy and I completed the first lap in about 33 minutes. Now it got a little confusing, as there were quite a lot of people on the run course, you didn’t know if they were on their first lap or third lap. It didn’t really matter though, as I continued to run at my own pace, I felt good and people were coming back to me fairly quickly. The laps ticked away and I continued to sip from my Bikefood energy gel flask whilst taking water and coke from the aid stations, everything was going to plan.

I was now coming towards the end of the third lap and I could feel myself slowing down. It wasn’t quite the Ironman-shuffle, but I was definitely slowing. I finished my Bikefood energy gel flask and started the fourth and final lap knowing that if I ran the last 7.5k in 40 minutes I would break 7 hours for the race. This was now my motivation. I didn’t care who I was passing (I stopping counting after passing 25 people), I just wanted to keep pushing on to break the 7 hour barrier.

I got the final turn point and worked out I had 20 minutes to do the last leg in, this would be a tough ask. I was now very tired. I had walked the last 2 aid stations, taking on lots of water and coke, so to get back to the stadium and do a lap of the athletics track and finish in 7 hours was going to be hard, hard work.

I pushed on, I was now hurting. I wasn’t out of breath at all, just tired and my muscles didn’t want to respond to my brain telling them to move – faster! I could now see the stadium and hear the crowds. I guessed I had about another 5 or 6 minutes of pain to endure. Surely I could do that? Could I?

I was pushing again, pain filled my legs and lungs but it’s amazing how the crowds drive you on. I entered the stadium and saw 2 Finnish athletes in front of me. I had about 350m to go and there was no way I was going to let them beat me! I pushed again, passed the first guy, reached the second guy, he tried to react but he was spent, I was past him and started driving on to the finish line. I looked at my watch with about 50m to go, I knew I was under 7 hours, it was instant relief! With the Finns behind me and 7 hours in the bag, I could coast to the finish line savouring the atmosphere.

I came 11th in my age group and went sub 7 hours, I was very happy about that! Many thanks to my family, friends, coach and sponsors for all your support, I know it’s a cliché, but without all your help I would never have made it to Finland to represent my country. That means a lot to me, so I thank you all.”

Mark had been using Bikefood products as part of his training preperation, he was also one of the team of athletes who was testing out our first samples of the new Bikefood Pure Energy Gel – a new product that he chose to use in competition, here’s some additional insight from an email he sent us:

“I used your products in training, but I guess the real test would be in the heat of competition. I decided to use the following products on race day:

Bikefood Energy drink (Berry)
Bikefood natural energy bars (mango)
Bikefood pure energy gel

I had 750ml of weak energy drink with breakfast, then on the race I had almost 2 litres of energy drink on the bike, with 2 natural energy bars and a flask of pure energy gel; whilst on the run I used another flask of energy gel.

At no time during the race (4k swim/120k bike/30k run) did I feel my energy levels dropping. Yes, I was very tired, but that was natural fatigue and muscle soreness, nothing to do with a lack of nutrition. “

Find out more about Mark and his training here on his own blog:http://whittlestriworld.blogspot.com/

and you can get updates via Mark’s Twitter feed here:
@Triathlon789