How did I....
Since I restarted running early this year, and the purchase of the trail Asics Trabuco, an idea came through my mind, partly due to reading regularly the epics of Juno : Why not trying to find events that combine running and mountain-biking ? Sport events of all sorts nowadays keep flowering everywhere in Poland so there must be something like this.
I googled first the duathlons, but without much success. Then I told myself, after all I can swim not so bad, so why not looking at triathlons too ? Most researches lead me however to classic triathlons and duathons, with race bikes, which I don't own.
Deeper researches told me the events I was looking for were called "cross-duathlons" or "cross-triathlons". A couple of web portals (Xtri.pl in particular) dedicated to trail-running, cross triathlons and so on, led me to the desired events.
I saw a multitude of small triathlons but which combined very small distances, and loops around a piece of terrain when it comes about MTB. Not really what I dreamed of. Others led me to Ironman's. Well, I'm not Juno yet too...
I found the TriathlonMTB series, more intermediate, but the three events are located quite far North in Poland.
I looked a bit in the neighbouring Czech Republic, where such events are said to be more popular, and landed on WorldTriathlete1 whose calendar focused my attention. But the events are quite far too for those whose nature and distances were fine for me.
Then I found Terratlon. In the magnificent mountains of the Polish Beskids, 1km of swimm, 25km of MTB and 10km of trail-running. All with challenging elevations, excepted for the swimming of course... The website was very enticing, I had a look to the pictures of the 2011 edition and told myself immediately I should give it a try this year.
I registered just before our summer holidays in Croatia, where I did a bit of trail-running in the hills (so far I had ran mostly on roads). There, the dry rocks provided me some hardcore experiences...
Despite the two weeks break, my bike condition was OK after all the July events. And the triathlon date just a week after the Uphill race on Śnieżka, which would make a warm-up.
When it comes about swimming, I did a couple of trainings of one kilometer swimming maximum, in our city's swimming pool. I must say I can't swim the crawl properly over more than a couple of hundred meters, so it was written I would swim the brass. Which I don't swim so bad: I complete the kilometer in twenty minutes, a time that some medium crawlers can envy. To make sure I was prepared to swim in open water, I swam in the Adriatic sea during the holidays !
I also had plans of making one or two blank triathlons of equivalent distances, to be prepared some weeks before. For example swimming in the city pool, jumping on the locked bike just after dressing, ride some trails around the city, then run additional 10k in the parks. I would pack the bike in my car where boots would be waiting.
I imaged also the same plan in Strzelin, where is located another nice pool, and at the trailhead of the Strzelin hills, good terrain for trail running too. But these plans never happened due to lack of time...
My wife, who usually doesn't care much about my sport events, asked me once, looking concerned and worried: "Eric, are you sure you are prepared for this thing ?!"
The way I would dress and change clothes during each stage, made me cogitate a bit the days before. That was my first triathlon...
First of all, I was worried about the temperature of the lake, as we are located in mountains... All I have a neoprene top for surfing, but it is quite thick and warm, and not adapted to endurance swimming. And I didn't want purchase some triathlon suit, as it would be only a try. Fortunately, some news on the Facebook page of Terratlon informed us the temperature was well over 20°C, so I could swim in short suit without any problem.
From this came the next questions: what to wear during biking and running. The weather forecast was very sunny, so the top would be the same, without sleeves. As for leggings, I prefer cycling with bike lycras that own a little cushion, but for 25km I would forget about it. I find that more convenient than running with cycling leggings. So I would put them over the swimming pants.
Finally, the question of shoes: cycling with old pedals and running boots already on ? Or automatic pedals, which would be a plus in uphills, but some extra time to change. The new Shimano boots are fast to put on thanks to their straps, so I opted for this.
I had also taken my bike gloves, but eventually didn't put them on after my hands soaked from the swim refused to go in it.
I drove to Międzybrodzie Bialskie in early morning on Saturday 18th. I had slept the day before with my wife and son to my mother-in-law's place, which is kind of small and inconvenient for a good sleep, despite the dinner had been huge. I wasn't very awake that morning, and missed a couple of junctions on the road during the drive and I felt more scatterbrained than usually. I had a bad feeling. Didn't I forget some essential item ? The bike helmet, the swimming glasses, everything was there...
I found the location without problems and arrived well in time. I was given two numbers, one for my handlebar, one for my shirt, and they drove a big "50" on my right arm and right leg with a thick pen.
I installed the Tomac in the bike rack, where bikes were getting more and more numerous, and put all my gear on a foldable camping chair, carefully sorted, plus some water and cakes within reach of hand. Then I went to warm up a bit, and ran to both ends of the road where the pontoon was. Again, I had a bad feeling, as I didn't notice any marks...
A debriefing took place at half past ten when all competitors, 60 in total, were there. The organizers, a very small team of volunteers that looked very friendly, explained all in Polish. I caught most of it, but it didn't clear all of my anxiety when it comes about the orientation. Few guys who obviously were during the previous editions asked couple of questions about specific spots in the itinerary, which I didn't catch well, and threw more trouble in my mind...
At the end, I went to the organizer himself, who knew I was a foreigner, in order to ask how the trail was marked: "Don't worry, everything is indicated, and there will be even some people at some points to direct you in the right direction".
The swim consisted in making a triangle from the pontoon to two remotely located buoys, in order that competitors don't swim in front of each other when coming back.
All competitors entered the water some five minutes before the start, which was given as we were all standing in line. I had no difficulty to enter water (less than in Croatia some cold days !), and placed myself on the very left edge, as I often read that the start-traffic-jam usually generates kicks of all sorts.
The lake was quite quiet that day with a very flat surface, which eased my brass swimming style. Concurrents quickly settled in their respective hierarchic positions. I found myself somewhere half-way in the middle. All ahead of me were swimming crawl. Some of them didn't monitor too well their direction and did zigzags, which my brass prevented me to do.
Unfortunately, there was an unexplained issue that filled the right eye of my glasses with water and forced me to stop and empty it regularly, but I didn't loose much time. After turning around the two buoys I reached back the pontoon, which I found suddenly very hard to climb back !
The bike ride, and the first worries
Stephane, a friend that was on holidays nearby and who came for the event, photographied me during the swim-bike transition. "Go Eric, the bike part is yours, they're all only swimmers, you'll kick them all !" he shouted.
I rushed on the road and joined a group of cyclers that started the climb. Trying to fulfill Stephane's prediction, and strong of my last week uphill experience, I decided to outwit them and go ahead, which I did well.
But after some hundred meters, despite my superiority, I found myself very alone, abnormally alone. I turned by head back to look for the other guys, who didn't appear. Holy shit, I must have missed something. I turned back and noticed a small red tape indicating to turn left on some large stony track. The three guys I outwited were on top of the slope, and I felt ridiculous.
I cycled hard to catch them back, but soon the track became so steep that everyone had to walk. One guy in blue jersey that caught me back after my mistake pushed together with me. We pushed, pushed, pushed, while starting to discuss how boring it was, and that organizers should have found something a bit more sexy...
Just before the top, we saw a girl who was taking part in the event, riding the opposite direction, looking extremely worried. What the hell was going on ?
We arrived on top of the hill, named "Góra Żar", where a lot of tourists were, due to the fact a little touristic train leads there. Puzzled about the absence of marks, we asked together "where is it ?". Many answers came.
- "I saw them riding down here !"
- "I think you should go this way and down !"
- "No, here straight, this way ! I saw them too !"
We went on, and started a very steep descent, as steep as the climb, which required the maximum of care. I was more and more frustrated about the design of the itinerary. As I talked again with the blue guy, he said "I hope we won't be penalized, as far as I remember there was a piece of trail overthere, we didn't do it !". Souvenirs from the webpage section about the route came back to my mind, and I felt suddenly shocked too...
"Let's see !" he said. We went on. After passing a large field we lost the marks again. Some questions to the pedestrians didn't help more. We landed in Międzybrodzie żywieckie, the next village, puzzled to be there, and rode back by the main road to the pontoon where we should be the count of the first loop.
As we reached the junction, a girl in yellow jacket noticed us and wrote down our numbers. "Guys, you should have arrived from here !" pointing a tiny singletrack coming from nowhere.... "You lost time !".
Well, I told myslef, two negative errors and one positive error... All will compensate itself, let's not say anything about the first loop. Hoping that no one would inventory competitors at the far end of the loop we missed on top.
The blue guy seemed to run out of strenght so I outwited him, and started the second loop. This time, I did no mistake at all. During the bike-push, a competitor caught me back, a guy who seemed extremely fit. He sat back on the bike on a place I was still unable to stand and pedal on the bike. Once I rode, I tried to follow his pace, but this customer was a tough one ! I noticed the other junction we missed during the first loop, and understood why the girl was running backwards.
We entered the portion unknown to me. That was a nice part, with various terrain, and I relativized my initial thought about the quality of the route. At the point we turned back, no check-point neither buffet was located. Good news I told myself, perhaps I won't be penalized.
In some bit of rocky descent, I tried to keep the pace of that guy ahead of me, but due to an error of trajectory, felt in the bush. Fortunately without any injury. He outwited me for good.
The descent of the second loop, during which I noticed the first runners going up, was done properly as well and I arrived by the expected piece of singletrack to the pontoon and changing zone.
The run, and the end of my hopes
I tighten my Asics Trabuco, replaced the helmet by the hat, and threw the bike rucksack. Legs were feeling unusually heavier, and I coudn't afford to run in my usual tempo. Let's give them the time to recover, I told my legs.
The running loop was done anticlockwise compared to the two bike loops, so we started by climbing the steep downhill. As it took me more time to change than others, a tall thin guy reached my level and we started running up together. Soon the slope was so steep that despite the Croatia trainings, I felt forced to walk, and so the tall guy did. We chatted a bit :
- "Dear Sir, are you sure you completed the two loops overthere ?" he asked.
I felt embarrassed.
- "Well, I got lost several times. I'll tell you later".
The walk up was long, and gave me similar regrets about the route, than the bike ride. Where is the running ?
As we reached the top, I noticed the guy that outwitted me when I felt by bike, he also walked, slightly slower. We almost caught him back when the both of us reached the top of Góra Żar, and the running restarted.
But, when it comes about running downhill, both of these guys were much more skilled than me. They quickly disappeared in the wood, while I ran as fast as my fears of twisting an ankle recommended me.
But soon, another concern came to my mind. So far, countless tires prints were visible in the mud of the trail we had cycled up, but suddenly the soil was intact. I stopped and thought. What to do ? Wiser after all my bike mistakes, I decided to turn back and I ran up, with great difficulty, a couple of hundred meters, that didn't show any suspect junction.
Well, I told myself... let's run down. All roads going down lead to the lake. I ran down. Fast, very fast. I quickly found myself at the level of some holiday houses and bungalows, located at the shore. But no road ! This was a cul-de-sac. End of my hopes for this triathlon !
As few people ate their lunch in some garden, I entered and questionned: "excuse me, where does the road leads to water-sport resort of Międzybrodzie Bialskie ?
"There is only one road here, he replied, it goes to the dam. You'll have to run around the whole lake. Good luck !". Disappointed, I had to cross the garden, and I arrived on the road and the dam. Far in the distance, I could see Międzybrodzie Bialskie and the pontoon, unreacheable.
It would take me a terrible time to run all of this, I told myself. I was out of strenght, and terribly thirsty. Now it wasn't anymore about finishing it time, but getting back to the place !
Some cars were going, so I decided to opt for hitchhiking, which I had never done in my life. Most cars seemed not to want to stop because I was soaked in sweat... Hitchiking when people ignore you like a weirdo isn't fun, definitely.
Finally, I decided to pretend being injured to speed up things. As one car that quited the car park started engine, I ran on their window, limping one one foot. "I injured myself, my ankle is soar, I need to get back to the event's place !" I shouted in despair. The people, a whole familly, opened generously the door. By the greatest chance, they were going to the little train on Góra Żar, which meant almost the finish line for me.
I ordered them to stop some fifty meters before the pontoon, and after thanking them, ran to the finish line.
"Eric Visentin !" shouted the girl who monitored times, and who decorated me with a medal that I didn't feel like deserving. "Well done !"
To my biggest surprise, some concurrents were still arriving after me.
I decided to go straight to the organizer to ask for details about all these failures about marking the itinerary. When I found him, two or three other angry guys were shouting: "Could you please explain me why the hell a guy that was before me suddenly found himself ahead of me after the hill ?", one was asking in anger. The organizer was looking pitiful, and after few seconds of meditation about all these volunteers making the event, I finally felt more compassion than anger.
Once free of people with reproaches, he went to me and asked "how was it Eric ?". I told my whole misadventure. Don't worry, he said. Almost everyone got lost.
I decided not to polemic more, and to forget about my anger. I only formulated remarks about the itinerary itself. Next year's event will be different, he asserted.
As the end of the afternoon went, with the last concurrents arriving, an atmosphere of party was slowly replacing the stress of the race. People went swimming again in the lake, there was a bar where we ate and drank.
The day had been beautiful, the location is wonderful, and I had done some good sport. Rankings will be anectotic, but is it really the most important ?
There is a triathlon forum where the organizers of Terratlon endured all sort of bitter critics during the following days. The organizers remained silent until a communiqué that announced apologies, and reasons of the failure: lack of volunteers, bad choice concerning the marking (plastic tape), and unfortunately some third people that partly removed signs between their installation and the start of the event. All 2012 competitors get a discount for next year...
There are rankings for the podium of the few people that completed properly the race. The rest is given in the form of a list, without any additional classification apart from alphabetic order.
The only part in which times make sense is swimming I swam in 23mn, to which we must remove the walk to the transition zone. Given the fact I didn't swim 100% plus the water issue in the glasses, this wasn't bad. I am 29th over the 50 who finished, and first amongst those who swam brass.
For cycling, my time isn't comparable to others due to all my mistakes, but looking at the times of those who cycled my pace and did the two loops, I estimate it as around two hours (the guy who outwitted me did some 10mn less which I think is fair).
For running, I have strong doubts the distance was 10km. The tall guy with who I ran did it in some 45mn, which seems surrealistic given the elevation. Basing on his time and adding some extra minutes for a supposedly slower descent (assuming I wouldn't have got lost), this gives a theoretical total of approximately 3h20. This would place me some fifteen minutes far from the podium. Pity I didn't complete the race properly, I think my ranking shouldn't have been bad at all.
So I have a 50% for next year to verify it. But, I must say, I've been meditating during all the walking parts what the hell I was doing there, instead of having registered, like some fellows of my team, to the Korbielów MTB marathon nearby. The fun of combining swimming and running compensated it.
I believe the organizers will not repeat this year's errors and the marking will be fine in 2013, like it was for the first edition in 2011. But I don't know if I would come back, if the route is the same.
Perhaps they will find and read the present report, with the randoms of Google. I hope they will not perceive only it as a critic, but rather as an encouragement to repeat the event and make it better than ever. The idea of organing an MTB marathon is such magnificent place is just genial.
I'm also considering taking part in a couple of such other duathlons/triathons on the calendar in 2013, like Święta Anna cross-duathlon, Dąbrowa Górnicza Cross triatlon, or Płock MTB Triatlon.