ETU AGE GROUP EUROPEAN SPRINT DUATHLON CHAMPIONSHIP 2016, GERMANY
I had qualified for the 2016 Sprint Distance European Duathlon Championship at Clumber Duathlon in March 2015. The opportunity to buy a GB trisuit and represent my country was too good to resist. I had qualified for the European maths challenge when I was around 12 years old, but for some reason that didn’t get me much kudos from friends at the time and I didn’t get any GB stash (not even a Team GB calculator!?).
The “Wunderland” theme park in Kalkar, Germany hosted the European Duathlon Championships with the age-group sprint and standard distance races both taking place on the same day (Saturday 16th April). Wunderland theme park is built on the site of a former nuclear power plant, with the former power plant buildings incorporated into the ageing theme park rides and hotel facilities now onsite. The theme park felt surreal all weekend and even a little spooky when I had a walk around the deserted site on Friday morning.
Of all of the participating countries, Great Britain had the largest team, outnumbering even the hosts Germany. The day before the race, I joined other competitors for a parade through the small town of Kalkar, after which we listened to some speeches in the picturesque town square from the mayor and other officials on the benefits of European togetherness (with more than a hint at the forthcoming EU referendum!).
I had taken the Nirvana Europe coach package to transport both me and my bike from London to Kalkar. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the most comfortable journey ever, and the coach ran a couple of hours behind schedule, but it was a relatively cheap option (especially with food and drink included at Wunderland for the full stay) and enabled me to stay at the onsite hotel, which made logistics simple. Lydia joined me on Friday night (after some drama with a cancelled flight) and stayed until Sunday.
When I decided to race the European Sprint Duathlon, I didn’t have any placing expectations (I knew that there was likely to be several competitors faster than me). Of the 15 competitors in my age group, 12 (including me) were British!
The sprint races started late in the day. I was in the 7pm start wave, along with all of the other men under 40 years old.
First 5k Run (Time: 18:11 – 12th/15 in Age Group, 52nd/292 Individuals for the First Run)
The run course was flat and twisty, meandering around theme park rides and along the bank of the River Rhine (with a section on cobbled paving). The out-and-back nature of both the run and bike routes meant that it was possible to regularly judge your position within the race. Even with an 18:11 opening 5k run, I was down in 42nd place out of the 61 people in my start wave (all men under 40 years old) after the first run.
19k Bike (Time: 28:49 – 1st/15 in Age Group, 3rd/292 Individuals for the Bike)
The transition area was a large warehouse with professional bike racking and a box for equipment, like you see the Brownlees, Gomez et al. using in professional ITU races. Pre-race we had been warned of penalties being strictly applied if any equipment was discarded in transition outside of the box. I had a decent (for me) first transition and was then onto the 19km bike course.
Around 20% of the bike course was technical with tight turns and a bumpy, paved surface. The remaining 80% of the bike course was flat with beautifully smooth German tarmac making it very fast and probably the most fun that I’ve ever had on a bike. I quickly started to gain places and by the end of the bike, I was up to 11th place in my start wave as a result of posting the 3rd fastest bike split overall.
Final 2.6k Run (Time: 9:23 – 4th/15 in Age Group, 22nd/292 Individuals for the Second Run)
The final 2.6k run was a case of trying to defend my position from the stronger runners. The second run distance of 2.6k was relatively short but it was going to hurt a lot throughout at the racing intensity required. The turnaround point half-way through the final run gave me an opportunity to try to work out my age-group position based on the race numbers of the competitors ahead; at that point I thought I was probably in either 2nd or 3rd position in the male 30-34 age group. With around 600 metres left, I was overtaken by an Irish competitor in my age group; I tried to stay with him, but didn’t have much of a chance (he ran the opening 5k in 16:23!). I wasn’t sure if that put me 3rd or 4th in my age group. Finally, the finish line came. My language skills have never been good, but I was sure that the German guy on the microphone at the finish introduced me as being in “vierte” (4th) position in my age group. Pre-race, I would’ve bitten someone’s hand off if they had offered me 4th place here, but immediately after the race I felt despondent (especially as the Irish competitor had beaten me by only 7 seconds). Lydia did a great job of perking me up post-race with food and beer. Wisely, Lydia avoided singing the Neneh Cherry classic “7 seconds away…” to me again after this race, unlike after Clumber Duathlon a few weeks before (where my unofficial post-race finishing time was 2:00:07, later rounded up by a second).
Around an hour after the race, the official results were posted. I had actually come 3rd in the 30-34 age group (13th out of 292 sprint competitors overall). Late in the evening, at around 10:30pm, I was on the podium receiving a European bronze medal, grinning like a nutter.
Final Thoughts (Finishing Time: 58:03 – 3rd/15 in M30-34 Age Group, 13th/292 Overall)
I won a European medal which I was delighted with. This was my first experience of racing an age-group event for GB and I absolutely loved it, meeting some great people over the course of the weekend. I’d totally recommend to others to experience either an ETU or ITU event, it was a weekend that I’ll remember for years and qualification is within reach for most triathletes (even if it takes a year or two of effective training).
My only slight gripes with the event were that you didn’t receive a finishing medal (unless you came top 3) and the location was a bit…. odd! I’m not usually bothered about finishing medals (I sold my London Marathon finishers medal last year), but for an event like this, where you’ve had to qualify, some kind of memento would’ve been nice (especially as the entry fee was over £100 for an hour of racing). I fully understand why the event was staged in a self-contained facility such as Wunderland, but it was located too far from the town of Kalkar to be able to easily visit the town unless you had a car.
The ETU Sprint and Standard Distance Duathlons are in Soria, Spain in April 2017 and I’ll definitely consider competing again then.