While flicking through the Spanish TV channels one boring afternoon in Sept 2009 I heard a presenter mention Santa Pola over a video of runners setting off along a seafront promenade. Recognising the town as one only an hour or so away which we had recently visited I decided to watch a little more.
The commentator kept mentioning the word “duathlon” which was new to me so I watched not knowing what to expect, the first runners finished the 4.9km route then jumped on mountain bikes and set off along the seafront and then inland and onto rougher ground covering a 19km route before returning their bikes to run a further 2.9km. I decided that if this was an annual event it would be a perfect challenge for me and I had a year to prepare.After a little digging, I found the website for the Santa Pola athletic club and my mind was set, roll on September 2010.
My good intentions of training for the whole year in preparation was interrupted by the winter weather and then friends and relatives visiting so I didn’t really get going until around February 2010, when I started to cycle more or less three times per week. Not sure if an entry was even possible at this point I decided to stick with the bike as a means of getting fitter and then start to run as I lost a bit more weight, unfortunately, I left the running until the end of July leaving only around 7 weeks to train. The mountain biking had however been going quite well with 10km routes on two weekday mornings and then a longer route at the weekend.
When my entry was accepted I started to panic as my running was still poor and there were only a few weeks left, a couple of hard weeks had me almost ready.
The weekend came around and bike preparation was done (in a fashion), not knowing quite what to expect of the cycle ride other than it included an off-road section, I basically checked tyre pressure, oiled the chain and bought a couple of cans of rapid tyre repair, just in case.
Getting out of bed at 6 am seemed like a stupid idea but that was the only way to guarantee arrival by 8:15 am in readiness for check in and handing the bike over before 9 am. A small breakfast was had and off we went with the bike securely strapped in the back of the car along with helmet, gloves and the kitchen sink.
The Santa Pola Athletic Club had done a superb job with the organisation, check in was a breeze, my helmet passed inspection and the bike was labelled and parked up by 8.45. With a 10 am start, we decided to sit with a coffee and watch people arrive. The gates to the bike area should have closed by 9 am according to my paperwork, but in typical Spanish style there where still people arriving at 09:40.
Eventually at around 09:55 the call came for the start, as I stood in the road with around 1290 poor soles it occurred to me that I could have still been in bed or better still carving around the local lanes on my motorbike, but no, I was in the middle of a crowd of lunatics on a 25degree day about to set off in an event I knew very little about.
The buzzer went and we where off or rather everyone else was off I immediately felt out of place as the whole field appeared to be coming past me, I picked up my pace a bit but the main bunch was pulling away. “Don’t start to fast or you’ll struggle later on” the words of my parents, both marathon runners, came to mind and a sensible pace was found.
The run was a bit of a blur, I remember talking to a Spanish girl for a km or so, it was her first time here as well, and then it was over, the line was in sight, but rather than rejoice, it was time to put my cycling head on, now what did the marshal say? which way did I have to go? And... oh god which row is my bike in?
The cycling started easily enough along the seafront and then up a rather steep hill and off road, until this point, I had wrongly assumed it would be half and half road and off-road. It turned out the route was about 95% off-road. Had I practised much off road? No was the answer, over rocks and tree routes I went brushing the undergrowth and much to my pleasure I started to pass a few people, this was more like it 19ish km’s of fun my legs were working well, the bike was only making a few funny noises and it was great. Down hill and back to the start, I sprinted along the seafront and passed one or two more, then realised I had another run to do, bugger.
The bike was parked, helmet removed and off I wobbled across the bike park trying to pick up the pace, to no avail. I managed to run about half of the last 2.9km, hobbling and walking the rest, I did manage to run the last 200m across the line, but I was dead. After 10 minutes gathering refreshments, T-shirt and a commemorative towel I wandered to my awaiting family and collapsed on a seat.
This event was my first in about 25yrs and probably the hardest thing I have ever done, but it was brilliant, I was so proud of myself for managing to finish and already thinking of ways to improve.
My bike survived the ordeal with a few new scratches and a broken spoke but the chain had come off at one point and the road oriented tyres had let me down a bit so some changes would be in order for next year and lessons had been learnt.