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PX Davies Wins Euro Champs

Planet X Triathlete Hywel Davies took the top step on the podium at the  2011 Tampere ETU Long Distance Triathlon European Championships in Finland. He kindly sent us the following extensive race report, enjoy:

Finland Euro Long Distance Race Report
by Hywel Davies

Its a long grab a tea or coffee

At the start of the year I had 4 races in the shopping basket for august and how the season progressed would dictate which race I would go for. Option 1 was Embrunman. My sort of course and I had planned to be out in France anyway. Challenge Vichy, challenge Copenhagen or the euro long distance champs.

Once deciding on the race and entering I did some research on the athletes in my age group. One guy had a 9.15 ironman to his name with a 52 min swim ( Henri V ) and another had a top 5 finish at Norseman, arguably the toughest iron distance race there is. Was I concerned? No. I can race with the best in the uk and over a shorter bike and run I could hold pace with the elites. I just needed to swim well. I had in my head that I may not be leading until late in the run but knew the names and numbers to look for on the bike.

On arrival in Finland, the course recce seemed to go ok. The run course flat and varied in scenery. Bike course pretty flat and good roads, but the swim just looked one hell of a long way.

Final 500m of the swim along a pretty wide but smelly canal.

Race Day:
Preparation was pretty laid back due to the much lower number than an MDot or challenge event. It meant the walk down, the transition etc was just less busy. You could even get to use a toilet if you wanted one. There was no rush for a 7.15 start but you did not really get a chance to do a swim warm up.

Swim: Target- Sub 1 hour.
Part of the motivation to do the long distance race was the 4k swim with good athletes. In most iron distance races you don't get many at the front end of the swim so finding space is always easy. 4k in a faster field would be a good test to get over my fear of open water racing. The swim was in a brown and choppy lake, dark water, chop and not much to sight are the ingredients to bring on my panic. Add into that the biff and anxiety starts to build.

There was no time to warm up, just in the water, a whistle went and go. I tried to hold a position next to the jetty and settle into an easy stroke. This was going to be a long way so no point trying to fight for the lead. After 300m the first turn pops up. A little biff but I was in control. The. The long straight of a about 1 mile. I looked up and saw feet and arms, but no bouy. Ready for the panic to come... It was brewing but I talked it down. I settled into a group of about 10 and it felt easy. No chase this time. No heroics. Just bide your time. I had set my watch to beep every 15 mins and had anticipated hearing one soon. It never came. It was working but I could not hear it.

The swim to the first turn seemed to take forever. So long that I could not see the pros coming back on the return leg after starting 30 min ahead. So long that the sun had now come up and threw some beams into the water. It was not dirty, just brown and a world away from the Annecy crystal blue lake, but the advantage was that bubbles stood out more and drafting became easier. The turn eventually arrived. The group still together and at last I could see something to sight off. It was short-lived. The next turn for home then literally hit me on the face as wind and waves picked up. This was my trigger earlier in the year but what got me today is that I was in a good chasing pack and feeling good. A few pathetic ripples were not going to change that. We pushed on. It was a noisy swim, not just your own rhythm but the waves on your face meant it was hard to settle.

Thoughts went back to outlaw where faded atabout 3k. I could not be far off that now. I could sense those around me fading so it was now time. I had been holding back until now. Let's see if 2 weeks of solid training had made a diffrrence. It had. I overtook the pack and 4 others came with me. I was conscious not to do all the work so slowed as the final turn approached and let the others take the lead. No point trying to pull away but worth sitting in and staying controlled. I exited the water feeling good. It felt longer than any ironman, even the early days so I was pleasantly surprised with 58 mins. What I was more happy with was seeing Henri as one of my group. The only guy on the age group I thought would be a threat. In the run in to T1 I overtook him.

The fastest Age Group swim was 56.19 and I was 58.36 and in a chase group. I was very happy with that.

T1 was ok and I got out before everyone in the swim group but the inevitable then happened.

As I exited and mounted the bike, the lead motorcycle came through and closely followed by the elites, 1 lap ahead. It was another 20 sec or so before I was clipped in and rolling properly but enough time for a few spaniards to overtake me doing a 2 up tt. They were holding me up though. I overtook them and powered on. Through the first lap I felt good. A cool morning, light winds and good roads. There were a few tight turns but nothing to really brake for or leave the tri bars. I averaged 24.8 for the first lap and in coming into the turn, the lead motorbike was 30'secs ahead. I was going the same speed. Another 3 miles later and I slowed down to get a water bottle. It was at this point that I saw the spaniards overtake. Not happy. How long had they been there? So close that i never saw them on the turn but then I thought about letting them go.

I made the mistake at outlaw of constantly trying to get away and ended up doing a the hard work only to be giving people behind an easy ride. This time I needed to ride my own race. So what if they passed me it would not affect my result. I took the drop in pace as a chance to eat a snickers bar or at least the lidl equivalent then one of the Russian elites rode up alongside just as I had dropped back onto the bars. He was not happy shouting something about slowing down to let him pass. Too bad, he got a mouthful of being a cheating bar steward for holding my wheel and only overtake if you are good enough. With a gap to the spaniards it was hammer time. He did not overtake and could not hold the pace. I got back in front of the espania peleton and powered on. On the turns I could see gaps opening and perhaps I should have ridden harder earlier as laps 5 and 6 started to push the average speed back up. The wind picked up and some rain fell. A few punctured, a few crashed, but I was on the home straight with no idea how I was doing in the age group race, but I knew I was riding as quick as the elite, who seemed to be able to ignore the 12 metre rule.
Hywel Davies Planet X

My bike Laps were as follows:

28:19, 28:14, 27:58, 28:28, 28:01, 28:50 (incl into T2) Total time on my watch was 2:50:51, which was the fastest Age Group bike time.

Into the stadium for t2 and I saw one bike. Thankfully he was not in my age group but he was still in the stadium. Shoes on and chase....for all of about 400m by which time I was in the age group race lead.

Coming the other way I saw Jarmo Hast,(eventual 2nd) an 8.15 Ironman Athlete about 1 min behind me but a lap ahead. There was no bike with him so maybe he was not the leader. I then passed 2 pro men and the leading woman. To my shock, then coming the other way on his 2nd lap was the spaniards, and with the lead bike. Cheated to the front!!!

To be fair, he was running well though. Some of the elite I was passing may well have been on the same lap as me and on lap 2 I passed the eventual 3rd place spaniard. I passed him on my 2nd lap of the run and was running considereably faster. I later find out that he was runner up in the world long course last year. I gave a comment about following me again but it may have been lost in translation. On lap 3 Hast caught me but I ran with him for the lap.

The pace was ok to stay with but I had 1 more lap to go. I had put time into all my rivals I could see and eased off the gas a little. No age grouper was running as fast as I was. I wanted to run under 2 hours and it was on track until I realised that with 1 mile to go I still had the extra lap in the stadium. I had to pick up the pace and my watch said 1.58.30 as I hit the track. It was not a full lap but still enough to make me work for it. I crossed the line with 1.59.50 on the watch, although the official time is longer. I did not notice the official run start but I would like to think I could have run quicker.

Thoughts on the race.

Q1 was it the right race to do.?
Copenhagen was fast but too early and close to outlaw. I still want to break 8.40 for an ironman. Challenge Vichy was too hot. Embrunman, maybe I could have finished in the money and I would still like to do the race one day. But going to Finland gave me a good race and a good test. It showed me my swimming is heading in the right direction and I can ride with the elite field. I raced who was there and came out with the win, the euro age group title, first brit across the line and the first athlete across the line in my race. I am happy with that and I have a European gold medal and best of all, I'm still learning and getting faster.

Q2: should I have raced elite?
The thought was on my mind all through the build up and training. I recognised about 10 names on the start list in the elite field and there was a seed of speculation. All it would have needed was one or two to struggle or pull out and I could have won some money. I would have wanted top 6 to be a profit but thought it was unrealistic. In hindsight it was the best decision. I would have finished around 14th assuming that the bike and run would have been faster. That would have been an experience but have nothing to show for it. I have raced a lot around the world and this time wanted a medal of significance. The field was a good one in the pro men. A few sub 8.20 ironman athletes and many of the world top 5 from the race last year. They may not be the rockstars of the sport but many will be failed ITU guys who are stepping up to try and earn a living. I know where my weaknesses are and if i could swim 10 mins quicker, I would be in the top 10 and with the race around me, maybe even higher.

Q3: did I learn anything from the race?
Absolutely. In terms of stringing all 3 areas together I think this was my best ever race. Can I class it as my 19th long distance finish. I am claiming it if people at imuk can say they ran a marathon which was only 24 miles. The swim worked, the bike was great and I could have run faster if I needed to go deep into the hurtbox. Swimming is not a fear anymore and when I analyse the results it shows a top 8 exit.

Finland as a race venue really surprised me. Perfect conditions, warm water and good roads. The people speak perfect English and apart from expensive beer, could not fault it and would love to race here again. Tampere is a strange city though. Apart from a random chili festival there was nothing there. A weird mix of people with bars, music and sex shops almost like amsterdam but without any real identity. Not sure that the race will continue but as a venue. The lake and the communist Russia looking stadium were perfect race venues.

The race organisation left a lot of questions to be asked. No t shirt, bag or medal. A very unclear briefing with no set rules such as mp3 use. Everything ran late and it struggled to create an atmosphere any more engaging than a local sprint tri. The race though was good. Well marshalled and a good course. It reminded me of Almere but on a much smaller scale. I'm not in a hurry to do another etu or itu event again. It's done, ticked off and have the medal.

Hywel Davies Planet X

A thanks to the sponsors for helping with the race. Planet x for continued support and a new disc wheel. Bike science for the team support, extreme endurance for the recovery the next day and greeper laces for keeping the run shoes on.

Get yourself a bike the Hywel

26 August 2011

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