GTC on the podium in Austria!

IMG_2134 (1)Some time last year, most likely after a few glasses of wine, Vicky and I decided we would target a European race in the summer of 2016. We wanted to visit a place neither of us had been to before and we narrowed our choice to destinations with a short-ish flight from Glasgow or Edinburgh.

After many false starts – mainly because the triathlons we looked at did not open their entries early enough for us to be sure of a place and then also book flights and accommodation – we chanced upon Krems Triathlon, about an hour’s drive from Vienna.

We thought we would make a long weekend of it and spend a night and day in Vienna as well as two nights in Krems.

We knew the triathlon was an Olympic distance but we were not sure of the route or the setting. Neither of us speak or read German and when we tried to translate via Google we found ourselves quite confused.

We decided simply to turn up and give it a go.

We thought the weather might be hot but we were told it could also be wet, windy and chilly. It turned out to be very hot and quite windy.

We had no idea that it would be a national championships. But as soon as we arrived we could tell it was a popular event because of the number of vey fit looking athletes and the amount of TT bike bling.

We had planned to do a lot of focused training for our “target race” but life, work, injuries and “lots of other stuff” got in the way of anything more than staying reasonably fit.

Put simply, we  listened to each other’s excuses, laughed a lot about the lack of training and drank another glass of wine.

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Setting up the bikes.
Setting up the bikes at our Krems accommodation.

Minor celebrities in the Krems Triathlon

The evening before the event we headed to the industrial complex on the edge of Krems where the race would be staged. We wanted to be sure of how to get there the next morning.

We discovered that the swim would take place in a man-made industrial basin (with water supplied by the River Danube). It looked calm and safe enough and the water was a great deal warmer than our Scottish lochs. There was even talk of a dreaded no wetsuit swim!

Swim basin at an industrial complex.
Swim basin at an industrial complex.

We also found out, while chatting to a few of the organisers who were looking after last-minute race set-up details, that there were  only two British competitors. Us!

“Ah, you are the Scottish ladies,” one organiser said with delight.

“Er, yes, we appear to be,” we replied.

The next day news of our fame had spread and several times we were asked to pose for a local newspaper story!

Apart from us, the field was mostly Austrians as well as a few from countries such as Hungary, Spain, Germany, Norway and the Czech Republic.

There were at least 200 competitors including around 50 women.

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A hot day of triathlon racing

Pre-race nerves got to us both. We confessed we had each slept only five to six hours. At breakfast, we had to force-feed ourselves yoghurt and cereal. We discussed our concerns with drawn faces.

I was dreading the swim. (I am not a strong swimmer and 1500m seemed like a very long way. I can’t see well in the water either.)

Vicky was anxious about the run because of a niggling Achilles tendon issue.

IMG_2113 (1)We both wished we had done more training and while we had said we would be doing the race for fun our competitive heads would not allow us to relax.

At the race start we found the organisation to be slick and everyone was  friendly. They helped us to try to understand the race format despite the language barrier.

We worked out it was a two-lap 1500m swim (we didn’t know if it was clockwise or anti clockwise until minutes before the start!), an out-and-back 40km ride (“kind of up and hill and down again”) and a three-lap 10km run (even though it said four laps on the website. Thank goodness we checked!).

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Krems Triathlon swim

Once in the water for the mass start (more than 200 swimmers in one line/group!) we were personally welcomed by the commentator as the “ladies from Scotland”. This made me laugh for about three seconds before I realised just how many people were surrounding me. I hate all that madness off mass swim starts.

The countdown came in German and I wasn’t entirely sure if they had started at 10, five or three. But then everyone started swimming and so did I!

I knew Vicky would be miles ahead of me and I just put my head down and tried to keep things as steady as possible. I really only have one swimming speed.

My main concerns were:

  • The distance.
  • Getting cramp (the last few times that I had swum I had been crippled by cramp).
  • My contact lenses (I rarely wear them).
  • Being overtaken by someone doing breast stroke.
  • Being last out of the water and looking like and idiot.

As it turned out, while I did swim a almost 10 minutes slower than Vicky I wasn’t last, I didn’t lose my contact lenses and I survived.

Krems Triathlon bike

Of course, Vicky’s bike  was long gone by the time I reached T1. However, I was determined to enjoy the bike ride. We had driven the route the afternoon before and I knew it would be beautiful.

I kept reminding myself: “Ride on the right, ride on the right.”

Although there was a sometimes swirling, sometimes head wind to deal with and a long and dragging ascents, I loved the bike section. It wasn’t a closed road event but the marshalling was excellent and I only needed to pull the brakes a few times for cars in front of me.

I have no doubt I should have pushed the ride harder but my experience of a standard distance triathlon is one other and I didn’t want to over-beast my legs in case I couldn’t run 10km. (I know, I know, I should have practised more in training!)

In any case, my fairly good speed seemed to be enough to overtake lots of people. The advantage of coming out of the swim late is that you can overtake lots of people on the bike.

I was also watching intently for the faster triathletes coming back on the other side of the road and, in particular, Vicky.

Many men on TT bikes whizzed back downhill and then, as I closed in on the last 5km to the turn point, there was Vicky. She looked like she might be placed in the top three women so I was thrilled for her.

I kept on pushing and had a bit of a cat and mouse chase with another woman as we rode the return leg.

I am sure I should not have seen as much of the view as I did (I should really have had my head down) but the countryside in the valley was so eye-catching that I couldn’t help myself.

And, finally, the run

It doesn’t matter what the triathlon distance, I find that the exit from T2 to the run is brutal. My legs refused to stretch out and I felt like I was running with tiny baby steps. I feared my calf muscles might pop.

I was grateful though that I could stand up straight after 40km on my tri bars. I was worried I might have totally seized up since I have not ridden that far on tri bars for a long, long time.

Then, as I passed the water station on my first lap I saw Vicky going on to her second lap. We grimaced a smile at each other.

Vicky’s face said she was struggling. It’s rare that I would ever have the chance to over-take our head coach but the lap system allowed me to do just that (although Vicky was on lap 2 and I was on lap1!).

Poor Vicky has had sore Achilles tendons for a few weeks and that meant she did not dare to push hard in her run. Yet, still, she did very well.

I was grateful for Vicky cheering me on as I pushed through the rest of my run. It was very hot and although it was supposed to be flat there were lots of small ups and downs and some rough trails to deal with.

Again, because I am a slow swimmer, I was able to run past quite a few faster swimmers on the run. I was thrilled to overtake so many people actually!

By laps two and three my legs were feeling less tight and I could run a little faster. I have not run a competitive 10k for a long time, let alone 10k at the end of an Olympic triathlon but I kept on reminding myself that this triathlon was meant to be for fun.

Finally, I was able to give it a bit of a sprint to the finish line and I was helped to stay upright by a marshall. Vicky assisted me to remove my chip and we hugged with delight.

We had come to Austria and done as we said we would, although we both confessed it was a tough race.

The post-race food included homemade pastries, oranges, bananas, as well as cola, sports drink and water. I found it hard to stomach anything but I did enjoy the post-race analysis with Vicky.

“That swim,” I squealed. “It was so, so far and then I was overtaken by a swimmer doing breast-stroke!”

“The run was so painful,” admitted Vicky. “I was quite far up the field but I lost a lot of places on the run. It was hard work.”

We also chatted some more with the race organisers and we were asked to pose for more photos. I can’t imagine that there are that many local papers in Krems!

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Up on the podium

Then came our podium moments. Vicky was delighted to come second in her age group, F40 to 44. My age group came next, the F45 to 49, and I was thrilled to take third.

The trophies are unique – and heavy! They appear to have been made of Austrian steel girders.

IMG_2138 (1)We could never have predicted taking home two amazing trophies nor discovering such a fantastic triathlon randomly picked from the internet earlier this year.

We told some of the triathletes we met to come to Glasgow to do one of our triathlons. I hope they do so we can repay their hospitality.

Triathlon "tan" lines.
Triathlon “tan” lines.