By Dean Hardie
Many of you will know about age group racing but some won’t. In triathlon and duathlon we have 5 years bands from 20 years upwards. The various governing bodies are BTF (British Triathlon Federation), ETU (European Triathlon Union) and ITU (International Triathlon Union). Every year these bodies put on races in the various disciplines that make up multisport – so that’s aquathlon, duathlon, triathlon, cross duathlon and cross triathlon – not only that but there are various distances within some of those such as sprint, standard, middle and long distance.
Now a few years ago I signed up to Zwift to enable me to get more cycling in when the weather was rubbish or it was dark outside or I just didn’t feel like going out on my own. Tacx Neo smart trainer, training bike, iMac, download some software and I was off. I’m a real fan of Zwifting now, loving the races and the group rides. I joined TFC about 2 years ago – what a great bunch of boys and girls who just share my passion for cycling. Belonging to the team certainly adds an incentive and I just love it when some of the team events come along and we can work together rather than just ride/race as individuals. Now I’ve been riding for 20 years but my cycling is now the best it has ever been and I put that down mainly to Zwift and TFC – I just get a lot more time in the saddle and in quality events etc etc. Not only is it a great online team with it’s own online kit but we also have the same kit IRL (in real life).
There are a few advantages of reaching the age of 60. You get a free bus pass, you get free swimming in the National Pool in Swansea but best of all is you go up an age group and don’t have to compete against some of the whipper snappers. In Wales that means I now compete in the 60-69 year age group and for ITU and ETU events I’m in the 60-64 year age group.
So will this be my year? As some of you will know I’ve been competing in multisport events for quite a while now – around 20 years I think – but the last few years have been somewhat frustrating due to recurrent injuries mainly centred around my crumbly calves. I’ve done a lot of races at home and abroad during the crumbly calf era but never felt I’ve had a truly good race because I just haven’t been able to get enough solid running in. I wanted 2019 to be my good year due to moving up the age group and standing a better chance of winning some silverware – so I pretty much entered everything.
Now the plan was to start training carefully from Xmas onwards, build gradually and avoid injury. My first main race was the Welsh Duathlon Championships in Pembroke in early March. Plenty of time and with 2 weeks at Club la Santa in Lanzarote in January what could possibly go wrong! Disaster when I caught a curb running in Lanza and my left calf went again. So that was it, biking only until Pembroke and hope for the best on the day.
Pembroke duathlon. What a miserable day – cold, wet and windy. A lot of people didn’t even get to the start line, but I was there with my calves taped up and compression socks on shivering at the start line. Anyway, the run went OK, the calves held up and I had a pretty decent bike ride in grim conditions to take the win. My first Welsh Champs win of 2019. A small field but I’ll take it – you gotta be in it to win it!
Next big race was going to be the ITU Standard Distance Duathlon World Championships in Pontevedra, Spain. Now I did the same race 5 years ago there and came 5th which was one of my better international results – but could I do better this year? That race was in April but before that I had another 2 weeks in Lanzarote to prepare myself and get plenty of riding in – so who better to take than some of my riding buddies from my local tri club. Well we rode pretty much every day and I clocked up about 1200km over the 2 weeks. We even got a chance to do some mountain biking. Best day out was probably riding up the infamous Tabayesco climb.
Anyway, it was off to Pontevedra, a lovely town in Western Spain. The bike course had changed from my previous visit. It was even hillier and more technical than before, so something to look forward to as my strength currently is my biking and not my running. The runs were multiple laps through the town which was brilliant with lots of beer swilling Brits giving a lot of vocal encouragement! Well it was a 4pm start and a very hot day. Anyway, my run was reasonably solid albeit somewhat nervy as you just never know when those calves are going to ping, killed transitions and had great bike leg. Didn’t really know where I was in the field at that point, but I didn’t see many bikes in transition around me at T2 and when I crossed the finish line I heard the commentator say silver medal. Yes my first international podium place – I knew if I stuck at it long enough something good would happen!
On a roll my next stop was Viborg in Denmark for the ETU Middle Distance Duathlon European Championships. Last year the event was held in Vejle in Denmark, I arrived there with a really dodgy calf, tried warming up and my calf was immediately sore which instantly transformed me into the beer swilling Brit giving loud vocal encouragement to the boys and girls who did manage to get across the start line. So, it was unfinished business for me, but I knew there were 2 German and 2 Danish athletes who were good in my field and the others I didn’t really know much about. Another afternoon start and another sunny day but it was quite chilly and windy. Calves all strapped up off we went on the 1st 10km run. It was a multiple very hill run through the town. On the final lap you had to turn right into transition and not left which would take you out on another lap. I was running toe to toe with one of the Danish guys and as we turned right the race organizer shouted out we were going the wrong way! We stopped looked a bit confused and said transition but he continued to try and usher us onto another lap – luckily there was a technical official not too far away who told us we were going in the right direction – so after muttering a few obscenities under my breath we got into T1. The bike was 60km and undulating with a constant draining headwind but at least I’d dropped my Danish friend. Back into T2 I headed out onto the 2nd 10km run over the same hilly course, which by now felt much hillier. I passed one of my GB mates who was in the age group below me and who was having hamstring cramp. Now he’d won Gold in the same event last year in Vejle and said I must be doing well but in all honesty I didn’t know how I was fairing, but I felt pretty good and thought a podium place was on the cards. I crossed the finish line and saw my name on the overhead screen which said 4th. Gutted. I asked one of the officials if that was the age group result and he said yes. I walked over to the team manager who asked how I’d got on, 4th I said, but after consulting the results on his phone he said mate it shows you as 1st and 10 minutes ahead of 2nd. It transpires the overhead on screen results were the entire wave positions not my individual age group position. So it was Gold after all, I was so chuffed.
It was a bit like waiting for a number 8 bus, nothing for ages and ages and then they all suddenly come at once. The following weekend then was the Welsh Standard Distance Triathlon Championships in Margam. I was worried about the swim as I just haven’t been doing any swim training at all – and so it was I had a rather embarrassing swim but once I was on the bike I felt really good and overtook a lot of athletes. It was a particularly fast bike course but it was a bit windy, mind you after cycling a lot in Lanzarote I feel the wind is my friend. I got into T2 to find an empty bike rack bar 1, now I knew from the number on the bike that it was an athlete in the 65-69 age group but didn’t know who it was. Surely I could catch him on the run. I didn’t feel great on the run really and my calves were feeling a bit crampy so I eased up a bit and played safe. I got to the finish line in one piece but didn’t know the result yet. My mate Jamie Best (TFC rider) asked me how I got on, I said there was 1 bike in T2 when I got in and I didn’t think I’d overtaken anyone of that age. He looked up the results online. I’d come first, yay another Gold. As it happens the guy who got into T2 before me had only done 3 laps on the bike course so was DQ’d.
And so that’s the year so far. Lots more races to come. Fingers crossed I stay fit and healthy for those too.