The region of Soria was besieged in 133BC on the orders of the Roman Republic. After 13 months of resistance, the citizens of the town in northern Spain opted to kill themselves rather than surrender. This time around a 250-strong army from Great Britain and Northern Ireland set up camp and prepared for the European duathlon championships. They were joined by competitors from across Europe and, bizarrely, Mexico, in a bid to defeat the Spaniards on their home territory. Fortunately the gladii were replaced with Garmins in what was a very welcoming and family friendly atmosphere.
My race was the “standard” distance, which is a 10km run, 40km bike ride and a 5km run. I’d trained all winter for this for a journey which began in early 2016 at the Grafham Water qualification race.
My prep had gone as well as I could hope, culminating in an age group win in Stockton the week before. The travelling made me a bit sleepy but an easy week of training meant I was as ready as I could be. No excuses!
As you might expect in Spain, the skies were clear and bright on the days leading up to the race and the snow-capped mountains could be seen clearly in the distance. The air was arid and we were at a high altitude which meant the sun could burn whilst the wind chapped your lips.
The weather forecast for the race was unfortunately not so bright. In fact, at the exact time when the race was to start it would be very windy and pissing it down. And right on cue, the heavens opened.
The run course was four laps through a park, up and down through avenues of trees. It was generally straight with half a dozen hairpin bends. A mass start meant there was quite a bit of jostling, particularly as the windy path narrowed within a few hundred metres. My original race plan was to aim for a 36 minute 10k. After holding back a little in Stockton, I was confident that with strong runners around me I wouldn’t be far off.
However, what looked flat to me turned out to be a deceptive incline. There was also a raging headwind. Still, I set out at 3:30/km pace. Just enough to get ahead of most people on the tight course but not too intense that I’d burn out. Or so I thought…
Fighting the wind took a lot more energy than I expected and caught me off guard. Finding a rhythm was tough and the hills quickly took their toll on the legs. Backing down the pace didn’t seem to help much either. The rain began lashing down and plant pots, fences and small animals were blown over as the storm took hold. The blue carpet was even pulled up and tossed around as the increasingly bedraggled athletes ran the loops past the grandstand. This wasn’t fun or pretty. “When will it end?”, I wondered looking up to the sky.
The gods did seem to be listening, though they perhaps mistook my despair for a plea to end the race. Switching my shoes and grabbing my bike I jogged up the long, grassy hill out of transition. Greeted by roaring supporters from all nationalities, it’s a right turn on to the road and a flying leap on to the bike. Off we go, my strongest discipline and those severe winds give me a great chance to catch a lot of people.
Hmm, this surface seems a bit bumpy. Pedal a bit, get my feet clipped in. Yep, still bumpy. Riding on smooth tarmac now but I’m getting a lot of feedback from my front wheel. Stop. Look down. Flat. Fuck. Game over. Less than a hundred metres on the road and I’m out.
I sling the bike over my shoulder and trudge slowly back in the direction of the cheering, my cleats struggling for grip on the wet surface and my bike catching the wind like a sail. It hurts. But I don’t care. The cheering subsides as the leper approaches. Like a sentry, I stare silently through my visor at the horizon. The crowd gradually unzips to let me pass. Sympathetic glances; mothers shield children. All it needed was a slow clap.
When you’re mortally wounded, it’s hard to leave the battle with dignity, but I gave it my best shot – much like the Celtiberians all those years ago.
Landscape image used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Josep Maria Juan Baruel.
Roman battle image used under Creative Commons licence courtesy of Garret Voight.