Joint Race Report: ITU Aquathlon World Championship – 12 July 2018 by Alice, Claire and Elspeth

Grab a bottle of wine, put your feet up….

It seemed such a good idea last year when Alice suggested to Claire & Elspeth that they should all try to qualify for this event. It’s just a swim & a run, you get to wear the GB kit, & you get to have a mini-break abroad! Instead of taking part in specific qualifying races, we had to submit times we had achieved in the swim & run elements of BTF races last year & hope that they met the guideline qualification criteria for our respective age-groups. They did, & so the fun began. There’s quite a bit of pre-amble to doing these events: booking flights & accommodation, ordering your GB kit from a supplier that had no stock for ages, keeping tabs on the ever-changing schedule via What’s App groups, emails & Facebook pages, but the big departure date came round soon enough.

They say things go wrong in 3s. Fortunately we got them all out of the way on our first day. First, airport security took exception to Alice’s gels & Sun cream removing them from her luggage. Once in Denmark we took a bus & a train to Odense. A bit of fast cornering by the train caused a man to fly across our table, depositing most of Claire’s lunch into her lap. Arriving in Odense, we picked up our race packs from a pretty deserted “hub” & caught a taxi to our hotel, a few miles out of the centre. As we made our way to our rooms, Claire’s bag started to leak everywhere – the sachet of water we had each been given in our race bags had burst, and in the process had soaked Claire’s race tattoos that we had to attach to our arms and wetsuits. Would they work, having been soaked?

The next morning we took a taxi back to central Odense to pick up the athletes’ shuttle bus to Middelfart (stop sniggering please), about 45 minutes away, where the aquathlon was to take place. It was all based around a marina and we were going for a swim familiarisation and race briefing. We met a few other first-timers whilst waiting for the bus and an old-timer who regaled us with her tales of previous races, podium achievements, and expectations of this event for the duration of the journey. Hmmmmmm. On arrival we met Chip who had just flown in & picked up a hire car.

The water was surprisingly fresh given the air temperature, but that paled into insignificance when we encountered the jellyfish! We had heard about them previously, so they were not a surprise, but they were a shock! There were just so many of them, big, small, clear, orange, and at all levels in the water. Apparently it’s the orange ones that sting, but spotting them & swimming around them wasn’t really an option! We couldn’t believe that people were going in without wetsuits. Rather than swim the whole course, we opted to get out (although, not before getting to know the Jellyfish – giving them a prod – and trying to feel not so scared about the situation) and head back to Odense.

After a bit of chill time at the hotel, we once again headed into Odense in our GB shirts, for the parade of nations & the “pasta party”. It was good seeing all the different teams in their kit with the flags, but it was very hot. We started the parade, ducked into the team hotel to check there were no last minute changes to the event, acquired a Norwegian flag, and then walked in the opposite direction to get to the pasta party venue. None of us had ever been to a pasta party with no pasta before, but there was other food & drink available and because we got there early, we already had our food by the time the rest of the parade arrived. Back to the hotel in time to see England play Croatia along with a couple of other age-groupers from the long distance event and some random Belgians. Even if you’re not into football, it was good to have a distraction from the looming race & jellyfish.

Race Day: we met for breakfast, race tattoos attached (phew), double-checked our kit bags as it would be too far to return for anything forgotten, and set off to Middelfart. It’s safe to say that our main concerns were the jellyfish and the heat. Both were there in abundance. The marina was really buzzing. It was the first time since we arrived that there was a real sense of a big event. There were athletes from so many different countries – GB & America were probably the largest teams, but the area was just a mass of colour & busy. After a little while, we were able to go & collect our timing chips & set up transition. It’s always odd at an Aquathlon as all you put into transition is your race belt & running shoes. It just feels all wrong!

Once 2pm arrived and the first waves started to go, time flew by. Claire was in the under 40 female wave, 5 minutes before Alice & Elspeth went in their wave. There was a flurry of activ

ity getting our wetsuits on in the heat, double-hatting to protect against the cold, and smearing vaseline over every bit of exposed flesh to guard against the evil jellyfish (it didn’t really make much difference though).

Now for our individual race tactics/reports:

Claire: I will try and keep this short but as Elspeth and Alice will tell you, having spent the last few days with me, I do like to talk!!

The start of the race seemed to come around quickly and before I knew it I was plastering Vaseline on my hands, feet and face and standing in the race pen with the other athletes. I take a few deep breaths as I enter the water and I just hope I can make it to the end of the swim.

I never seem to have any race tactics apart from ‘go as fast as you can’ but I thought it would be a good idea to hang back on the swim and let the other girls fight their way through the jellyfish. I managed to hang onto a pair of feet for the first 500m but when we turned around the buoy, the pair of feet in front of me was going way off course. I managed to kick my legs (I don’t normally use them!) and catch up with some other girls who seemed to be going in the right direction. The jellyfish were out in their thousands and it was very hard to avoid them. With 200m to go I managed to have a head on collision with one of them and was stung badly on my face. I yelped and said a few swear words but told myself to just get on with it. Seeing the exit out of the water was such a relief and I hear Chip shout my name. I take a cheeky look at my Garmin and I see that my swim wasn’t as fast as I’d hoped. Oh well, I survived the jellyfish!

As I get into transition I see some empty boxes next to me, which gives me confidence that I am not last out of the water. My aim for this race was: not to be the last person to finish in my age group and an added bonus would be if I wasn’t the last GB athlete to finish in my age category. I manage to do a quick transition and I’m out on the run in the heat. I don’t actually remember much about the run as it was uneventful compared to swimming with jellyfish but I do remember my face burning from the jellyfish stings.

It was nice to hear the crowds shout ‘Go on GB’ and I even cracked a smile when someone said ‘that’s an unusual surname’ as I ran passed. It would have been even more unusual if I’d gone with my married name! I hit the 4km mark at the top of the hill, which was the turnaround point, and try to pick up some speed but my legs feel heavy. One of the girls from my age group comes passed me and I try to keep with her. I can hear the crowds as I turn the corner for the finishing line, and it’s a sprint finish to the end. I cross the line, pick up my medal, and wait for Alice and Elspeth to finish. My face still felt sore so I went to the medical tent in the hope that they could do something, but I didn’t hang around for long after the medic explained that the treatment for jellyfish stings was to apply shaving foam and shave the affected area. I didn’t quite fancy having my face shaved! I applied some vinegar when I got back to the hotel and just smelt like a fish and chip shop instead! I thoroughly enjoyed my first GB trip and to my surprise it wasn’t as intimidating as I had imagined it would be.

We had a blast and laughed a lot, which, apart from the racing bit, that’s what it’s all about. A huge thank you to Alice for her endless knowledge on how to prepare and race for these competitions. Also, a very special thank you to Elspeth’s husband, Chip, who was such a great supporter. He was the best chauffeur, bag carrier, spectator, and photographer. He certainly made our lives easier.

Elspeth: I just wanted to keep out of trouble on the swim, so I lined up on the left (outside edge), a couple of swimmers back from the front. After the usual washing machine water at the very start, this gave me some clear water pretty early on & I just swam. My sighting wasn’t brilliant & I had to re-adjust my line several times, especially after the buoy at the turn into the marina, where I didn’t turn enough and found myself swimming straight past the marina…ooops!

Once in the marina, I found that I could pick up pace, and for once I wasn’t totally wobbly getting out of the water. Passed Chip, roaring at me, as I entered transition, glancing to see if Alice’s box already had her wetsuit in it, but failing to spot the box. Out onto the run, where I tried to just trickle along while I settled down. The heat & the impact of the salt water on my mouth were pretty unpleasant, but I was pleased to pass an Australian girl from the previous wave in the first few minutes, and then several men who must have set off at least 10 minutes before me…woohooo! Then came a little pat on my shoulder as Alice passed me….back to reality!

The course was fairly flat but there were quite long gradual inclines and descents which take it out of you, especially in the heat. Half way around and we passed through the marina. “Go on Goodspeed” I heard Chip shout. Lovely to have the support. Other GB team followers shouted “Go on GB” as we passed. Half way, just a long out & back to go, but it was gruelling now. Saw & called out to Claire running the opposite way on her way into the finish. I picked up a water sachet, squirted some of it into my mouth and the rest over me. Damn…saw a GB woman in my age-group go past, with no hope of me staying with her. On the final leg back in, another one passed, but I kept on her heels and went past. Unfortunately the lure of another water sachet was too great & she overtook again and got too far ahead for me to do anything about it. Next time….next time….! Chip was there again at the finish shouting me in. What can I say… it was emotional!

Alice: Not sure if they were race tactics or survival tactics tbh. I had great hopes (with all my toes and fingers crossed) for a top half place before we got out to the race but the presence of the jellies and the intense heat were going to make that a challenge. At primary school I brought a jellyfish home from a school trip, in a crisp packet, so in my childhood I was obviously ok about them but in my teenage Norwegian summers with family, an uncle used to kick and throw them at us – since then, not a fan! So, the swim familiarisation brought all my nightmares to life and was freaking me out.

All morning on the day of the race my heart was racing and I wasn’t sure I could get in the water, let alone finish the swim. I downloaded a meditation app and spent some time trying to be chilled out about the jellies. Anyway, race time arrived, finally, and then it was all so rushed at the end of the prep and we were in the race pen that I couldn’t think about it – just follow those women, get in a good spot and go! I had enough time to choose a start point with good line of sight to the 1st buoy. I decided that being with others was probably the best jellyfish avoidance tactic and that’s what I did – I didn’t make a break for it, pick up my pace or do my own race, what I did was stay on other swimmers’ hips or on their toes, in an effort to make the jellies go round them. I sighted a lot as well to try to avoid ingesting them. Like everyone else I was stung – ears, face, neck (a lot) and I’m pretty certain that I swallowed a little piece of tentacle as my throat was burning for 24hrs in just one spot from the swim onwards – eek!

So, finally on the run and it was hot hot hot. I noticed that a few boxes round mine in transition had wetsuits in and I just hit the ground running and tried to pick off athletes. I saw the Goodspeed bottom ahead and eventually over took Elspeth. I saw other names I recognised and tried to pick them off one at a time, although I didn’t know if they were my age-group or not. The run course should have suited me really well but the stress over the jellies and the heat knocked my pace and I was below par. However, the experience of doing GB racing with other MTC athletes was great – even with those blooming jellies. And, I won’t be so scared of swimming with jellyfish ever again. 

A big thanks to Elspeth’s hubby, Chip, who spent a couple of days acting as chauffeur which is much appreciated and meant that we were back at our hotel while everyone else was still queuing for the athlete transport. It was lovely to share this race experience with Claire and Elspeth, who took racing with team GB in their stride and helped to keep my mind off the race stress and jellies.

Overall, this was a great experience, with some surprises, and we were all pleased with our achievements. There were many other events taking place at these Championships but they were all in different towns and spread over a couple of weeks, so we didn’t get to see them or to really feel part of the bigger GB team. If we hadn’t had our merry band of 3, & Chip, it could have been quite a lonely experience. The other surprise was the standard of competitor. There are some uber-confident seasoned competitors who can be just a bit off-putting, but it was equally clear that not all countries have the same high level of qualification criteria as GB & we were all surprised at the number of very slow or inexperienced (never done a mass start swim before!?!) participants. Would we do it again? Of course!

Note: Team GB was top of the medal table – we’re a fantastic country for multisport.

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