Racing in Denmark for BTF team Gb (age-group)

So, I decided to try and qualify for the ITU Aquathlon in Denmark this year, I submitted my times earlier in the year and qualified along with two other Meridian Triathlon Club ladies (Claire and Elspeth) - hooray! we would be racing and travelling together.

My running has been slower than normal, as half marathon training last year made me slower and I've been recovering my speed (it takes me longer than most, to recover running speed, due to my biomechanics). With some coaching from my run coach, Grant, speed has been returning and I'm pretty much back to where I was last year and now I'm working on getting faster. Something has been off with my open water swimming too and I can't figure out where - it's easy to see what's going wrong with other people's swimming - it's harder when it's you with the issue. So, all-in-all I wasn't expecting any big achievements in Denmark but it's fun to race at that level.

We travelled out on Tuesday 10th July from Stansted and took plane, bus and train to get from Stansted to Odense in Denmark. We arrived to a very quiet registration tent (normally it's buzzing) and collected race packs and decamped to the hotel - again very quiet and away from the action of Odense city centre (even the city centre is quiet).

The next day was our pre-race day, so quite a lot to fit in and after a big breakfast we caught the official athlete's buses to the race location, [no laughing] Middelfart, where we were going to do a swim familiarisation. The LOC (local organising committee) for ITU events nearly always organise a swim fam for the athletes a day or two before the race. It's a really good idea to do the swim fam as it will help settle your nerves, you can check out sighting points and just use it to tick your arms and legs over. On the bus we met a slightly older age-grouper from GB who took it all very seriously, when I suggested that we were doing it for fun she responded that she certainly wasn't doing it for fun - she expected to podium!  Unless you are expecting to win, and actually even if you are, then really you should be there to enjoy it and find some fun in it. Nobody in the big wide world really cares whether or not you are World Champion at age-group level and you aren't paid to do it - of course you train hard for it and will race hard on the day but you should remember what it really is...just another (expensive) race with fancier kit and more rules.

Now, here comes the big surprise of the event...Jellyfish! I really do not like jellyfish and I'd heard the day before that there were jellyfish on the course but seeing and swimming with them was a shock. They were mainly moon jellies (clear non-stinging ones) but also some orange ones (which stung). There were lots of them and they were a bit like spiders - really random - one minute you can't see them and then there are three right in front of you. Eek! We did a little swim (about 400m) and then exited the water but I suggested getting back in and confronting our fear by getting more friendly with the moon jellies. We touched them and watched them and it did help a little. 

After the swim it was run time and we did a little jog round the first half of the course - mainly to test the initial climb out of transition but also again to tick the legs over. The run course was rather random - running through a residential area - but was fine. 

Back to the hotel, this time via car (Elspeth's husband had arrived with a hire car - fantastic) and to find somewhere to purchase two days worth of lunch and a big pot of vaseline to smear ourselves in, to be protected from the jellies. 

After our super quick lunch it was time to go back to the hotel, prep for the next day, change for the opening ceremony/parade and pasta party and then back to Odense. Refreshed, kind of organised and in our official GB gear we head off to the parade - fun but never as good as you think it will be - and then to get some food at a pasta party which had no pasta although there was other food and cold 0% alcohol beer. It was World Cup football night and England were playing Croatia (that game) so we left the pasta party a little early to go back to the hotel and watch the game with some other athletes and had a calming small glass of red wine (to help calm those pre-race nerves and aid sleep - which it did).

Race day arrives and with it a whole bucketful of nerves. All I can think about are jellyfish and how I can't even get in the water with them, let alone race in the water and get to the finish.  But I do and I did...we had loads of time at the race to get ready but in no time at all the race start arrived and we were rushing into our wetsuits and lathering up with vaseline and then there was the command to get into the water. On the start line I got into a good position with sight line to the 1st buoy and then all I could think about was my feet touching the jellies and then we were off. My tactics were survival - stay with others, safety in numbers, draft other swimmers to avoid the jellies and gain speed. I'm not sure that I gained any speed but I stayed as close to other ladies as possible and we swam as a pack through the jellyfish infested waters. To be fair, for the first half of the race I saw only a few moon jellies but as we turned around the sea wall into the harbour (it was a 1k swim) for the second half of the swim there were loads of orange stinging jellyfish. It felt like we were swimming in jellyfish soup. I tried to sight a lot on the basis of keeping my head out of the water and not be stung but by neck started burning - I could feel the stings on my neck, ears and cheeks and when I took on water on a couple of occasions I think I may also have swallowed a piece of tentacle because I could feel a burning in my throat on one side. Soon there was the exit ramp and I was up, walk a few strides - I was quite wobbly - undo wetsuit and back to running to transition. Found my spot - wetsuit in box, shoes on, number belt on (numbers weren't waterproof) and off onto the run. By now it was about 3pm and the heat was intense, running up the hill trying to pick off women who might be in my age-group and then back down the hill, letting gravity help, towards the start line and then back up for second half - up another hill on a straight out-and-back with no shelter/ I felt pooped and I knew that my pace was off the mark. Down the last bit of hill - trying to make the legs work harder and then sprint to the finish (I knew there was an athlete close behind). Cross the line - collapse in a heap - find teammates and have a drink. Done, dusted, race over.

We were hot, exhausted, burning from the stings and in need of a shower so left as soon as transition was open. Back to the hotel, shower, rest and then dinner with a few glasses of wine. That felt better. 

It was a really well run event and in a very relaxed location. Team GB was the highest placing team once again and I was 7th in my age-group, 3rd GB and that means a PQ (pre-qualification place) for next year's ITU in Spain - run training to do and obviously I'll keep on with the swimming training (more speed work I think).

Alice Barnes