No matter how well you have prepared, there are always nerves on the start line. Especially when you’re lined up beneath the starting banner of Powerman Spain, recognised as one of the most demanding duathlon events in the world.
Standing alongside top athletes that have achieved serious things in duathlon and triathlon, I remembered feeling intimidated in the past but I was determined not to be intimidated this time. I knew I was in good form: stronger in both disciplines than before and genuinely believed I could mix it with these guys. I was planning on having a good go anyway!
Powerman races consist of a 10k run, a rolling/hilly 60k bike then a final 10k run. But when the gun fired there was no thinking of the long bike and final run, no holding back: it was fast from the off. The Garmin bleeped at 3.06 for the opening 1k. Doable for me, but a little too punchy for my liking. Luckily it settled down a bit and after a few tentative efforts from other athletes to break away we settled into a group of 7 which included Gael le Bellec (3 time World Powerman Champion (France)), Diego van Looy (pro triathlete (Belgium)), Kasper Hartlev (recent winner of the Mallorca marathon (Denmark)), Toumi Dhamarni (68mins at the Barcelona half marathon 2 weeks ago), Denis Sketako (pro triathlete (Slovenia)) and Ewen Toulgoat (top triathlete (France)). I was enjoying the star-studded company but I was not there to say I ran with this guys, I wanted to mix it up with them at the pointy end of the race. The pace fell a little and we tapped it out at 3.12 min/km. Perfect: hard but controlled. I could definitely live with this so far.
We were soon heading into T1 and after the usual frantic jostling, we were out on the road. I was in 3rd as we pulled our shoes on and did up the straps. Le Bellec immediately passed me then a few minutes later Van Looy came past like a train and settled in behind le Bellec and when we hit the long straight road out of town (Can Picafort) I could see Dahmani and Toulgoat further up the road. Le Bellec and van Looy soon went past those two and headed off. Could I respond? No! My heart rate and power were already dangerously high and any further push would have dire consequences later on. I forgot about the front 2 and concentrated on pushing at a hard but controlled wattage and began reeling in Dahmani and Toulgoat. I passed them after a few KMs and after a few looks back down the long sections of open road (whilst in aero, obviously!) I could see I was alone in 3rd. The front two were up ahead and going away so I settled in and focused on staying aero and spinning out the miles as hard as I could.
The 60k bike leg consisted of a 30k out-and-back route that we did twice. The next target was, therefore, the turn point at 15k where I could gauge the time to the front two as well as the field behind me. I was disappointed! Van Looy and Le Bellec were a fair way ahead and looking very strong – I wouldn’t be seeing them again. I was desperate for some water but at the feed station the marshals weren’t ready and I had to take a swipe at the bottles on the table – with no luck. I was furious! I tried to forget it and move on. Don’t tense up, stay relaxed, enjoy this fast rolling bike course!
Just before the turn at 30k Michele Paonne came past me like a man possessed. He was flying! I wasn’t worried though: he caught me at the very halfway point of the race, so in theory, we’d end up close on the final run towards the finish and the stronger runner (which I believed to be me based on the first run) usually wins out because they are chasing. The next turn allowed me to gauge how far back the rest were and to my relief, I was well ahead of 5th. However, my hamstrings were feeling a little crampy and my aero position was less comfortable so I became quite ragged in the final 15K. I definitely wasn’t ‘flowing’: I was in and out of the saddle a little too much. Get back in aero! Stop being weak!
After a solid battle with body and mind, I found myself flying into T2, racking my bike and heading out onto the final run. As I ran off onto the course, I had a quick shake of the arms and legs: relaxing the muscles and checking for issues. There were no specific problems, but I didn’t feel good. The legs were tired and my body did not want to respond when I tried to up the pace. The opening km off the bike was 3.33 – a long way off the 3.13 at last year’s race – so it was not looking good. Don’t panic, your legs will come back. Get your arms moving and the legs will follow. I tried to up my arm rate and run cadence but the next km was another 3.33. The next was bang on the same. My legs were clearly not coming back, in fact, they were feeling more and more tired, and a little crampy. The first turn at 2.5k had revealed that I was not gaining on Michele; he looked strong and had clearly taken it easy on the first run. I tried to get some water down me and poured plenty over my head before settling in for a further 7km of suffering.
It soon became clear that I was isolated in 4th. I wasn’t going to be caught and I wasn’t going to catch Michele. Usually I would have started evaluating the race and weighing up how I felt about my position, but to be honest, all I could think about was nursing it through to the finish. I was desperate to finish it and have a lie down in the shade! The kms ticked by slowly and eventually I was on the red carpet heading to the finish line. My first emotion was relief, the second was disappointment. There certainly wasn’t any of the elation that was in abundance this time last year when I finished in the same position.
But that’s why we love sport, isn’t it? If it was the perfect result every time, we’d never get that magic feeling when it all clicks into place and we nail a brilliant result. Plus, as I said in my previous article, there is also so much more to the race experience than the result. Though at the point of crossing the line and for the next few hours, it was impossible to console myself with that thought.
So, I’d better get training so I can feel that elation next time I cross the finish line!
For more information about Powerman Spain, please click here.
Ben Price is a duathlete who has represented GB at elite level over the past two years. He came to the sport in his late 20s and since then has progressed through the age group ranks until he was selected for the elite team in 2017. You can follow Ben’s training on Instagram through his daily posts.