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Long distance triathlon championship Portugal (Vilamoura)

-By: Tomas Swift-Metcalfe

Last modified: January 6, 2016

Racing in the Algarve, my 4th and last long distance triathlon of the season.

I only decided to enter this race right at the last minute. Lots of work work and academic work meant that I had somewhat neglected my training (certainly not enough for a long distance triathlon) in the past few weeks, “excuses”, yes certainly, however each of us is limited by constraints and they tell part of the story.

Triathlon top tip: Goal setting should be contextual and account for the constrains on a particular performance. Goals should also be intrinsic: you cannot account for extraneous circumstances and the actions of other people. 

Racking the bike at dawn

Racking the bike at dawn  Photo credit: Catarina Lopes

I was somewhat apprehensive about what the weather would be like, as at the beginning of November there is about a one in four chance it’s going to be bad weather here in the Algarve, I fancied that by the end of the month it was likely to be worse. As it happens, the weather was nearly perfect, with a spectacular swim at sun up, long by a bit judging by the ‘slow’ times, followed by a spectacular bike ride with a few hills. I saw huge jelly fish on the swim about 1.5 m bellow me. I’d never seen anything like it, except on TV. It gave me such a fright I practically jumped out of the water and onto whoever was swimming beside me.

The bike was unique in that it was on a ‘proper’ bike course: It didn’t just go round a flat course a couple of times as tends to be the way in long distance triathlon. It had a few hills, some bends and favoured people who can actually ride a bike well.

I love racing and I love racing a bike particularly. Even with shit form there’s something fun about it.

We arrived at the venue the day before and to listen to the briefing, something I find useful. At the registration I was hit with a typical bit of Portuguese bureaucracy: I didn’t have a valid sports medical. Rather, I had done one in February and even went a step further and had bloods and stress ECG done. Anyone will that a normal ECG (not a requirement) wont usually pick up issues associated with exercise, so a stress ECG is a wise precaution.

Triathlon top tip: ECG + stress ECG if you plan to do any racing. 

Anyway, the issue was that they changed when a sports medical was required from each calendar year, to each year of life (i.e. after your birthday, get a medical). What this meant in practise was that I couldn’t technically contest the national championship. I could however run in the “open race”. I was left wondering if that left me in the running for “best foreigner” or “best algarvean” (since I was born in the Algarve), both prizes announced, but bizarrely were not attributed (to my knowledge). Now while I don’t really care about titles, I do care about prizes: I sincerely hope that I get the prize money.

I’ve found the way triathlon is organized odd and it puzzled me that a non-national can contest a national championship: This would happen in open national championships (e.g. USA nationals) in cycling, however the title of national champion was always attributed to the first national, not first person to finish the race. I am British and Irish in the paper work, so technically and depending which one I chose to represent, at least in cycling I could only contest those titles.

Anyway, I did the race, my objective being a top 15, I’d missed 2 weeks training and so expected a performance similar to that in Cascais in September. However after loosing many minutes in the swim and a further minute and a half in transition drying myself off (to avoid the cold) and changing clothes I rode up to third in the overall by about 50 km of the bike. I surprised myself with this. I then rode away from the David Caldeirão, my “rival” for the race and to my surprise was later caught by him near the finish. I was particularly surprised because I was riding fairly well, not just noodling along.


The bike leg: the bike makes a difference! Photo credit: Joana Hipólito

The run merged with a half marathon running race and this caused me confusion. I had 108 km on the clock and there were 4 laps to the run, however they had only two marked: 10 km in and 20 km in. A hot head altered my perception of distance and confused, I sprinted away on the second lap thinking it was the finish. That meant cramps, so I stopped and waited for the next along. I was able in the remaining 10 km to then open up a small gap, but in last 500 m got passed by two other competitors, meaning I finished fourth overall, which was a tad disappointing given the circumstance, but far better than I expected before the race, so I was very happy, despite very sore legs that I could barely walk on afterwards.

run vilamoura triathlon

A running suffer fest; racing for 2nd place. Photo credit: Luís Santos


podium Portuguese long distance triathlon

Podium, a bitter 4th place (2nd in my category). Photo credit: Joana Hipólito

I was pleased to get the fastest bike split, which given the little biking that I had done, was excellent. The run was a disappointment… I think in future I wont race these harder races without being diligent.

Plans for the future

Now it’s time to work and plan.

Next year I am planning to race pro in long distance triathlon, though I might skip Ironman distance. So far I’ve only got permission to race pro in 70.3, so I will need to race a marathon to show aptitude for full Ironman. ‘Pro’ in triathlon essentially means being able to win prize and having presumably won my first prize last weekend, it seems appropriate. Triathlon is not like cycling in this either either though, there is no salary arriving every month and as such most pros have other occupations and are lucky to get even all their equipment sponsored. There are some who do very well, but they are few and far between. Sponsors would be dearly welcome, but I feel slightly churlish as 31 year old man about asking people for things or money so I can ride round on a bike.

This project does need some major tweaks though and frankly I don’t know where I will go come next summer. I want to finish the project, sew it up and have something that runs smoothly and provides the best services to endurance athletes anywhere on the planet, it’s a dream at this stage.

I finish my degree by April and so will have a good few extra hours to invest and all should be more relaxed. I can get back to tinkering, coding, coaching and training properly.

I haven’t chosen which long distance triathlon circuit to race: Challenge or Ironman, or both or something completely different. I kind of fancy the Alp d’ Huez triathlon. There’s a lot to choose from and obviously costs involved need to be considered. I have chosen locally what I will do: a few ‘masters’ cycling races (yes I miss cycling that badly) for a local club, running races for a local club and a new local tri club.

Race wise, I am going to start the Seville marathon on the 21st of February, then I will see. I don’t like training for marathon, so I will probably stick with 70.3 distance for the foreseeable future

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