ETU European Age Group Championships: Alanya, Turkey. Follow me on Twitter @jameswbray

james

It was my first experience competing in an International competition, so I took the advice of the GB Team Manager (Dawn Vaughan) and booked my trip with Nirvana Europe back in December of last year. I chose this option in an attempt to reduce all the stress surrounded with booking independently. Also this package meant that I would be staying in the Team Hotel with all my fellow age-groupers.

I was at home when I got an email from Nirvana. In a nut shell, there were far too many bikes booked on the flight; therefore the airline couldn't guarantee my bike would travel in the hold on the same flight as me! Immediately I panicked, then composed myself and read the remainder of the email. Fortunately, Nirvana had already solved the problem (money well spent I guess) by arranging for my bike along with all my fellow athletes bikes to be picked up 1-week prior to travel and travel over ground by courier. I spent the rest of that week preparing for the trip, which involved 5-days of heat acclimation in our (The University of Hull) Environmental Chamber (see earlier blog).

Tuesday - I woke up early, had my breakfast, showered, packed my car and started the trip across to Manchester. I made my way to my seat and managed to get a seat next to another triathlete, Hamish Shaw. Being next to a fellow athlete helped the time pass quickly, as we bored each other with stories of triathlon.

Wednesday - After a short sleep, I got up early and headed down to the team hotel to meet up with my fellow AGCers for an organised sea swim before breakfast. The sea was absolutely beautiful, warm, calm and so clear you could see all the fish that were also enjoying the conditions. I really enjoyed the swim and felt good; this was a massive relief for me as id never swam in the sea for a triathlon before. I spent the majority of the day chilling (maybe the wrong choice of words when it was >30 C), eating and getting my tan on with some other triathletes, who also made the trip to Turkey alone; Hamish, Paul and Ali (a junior who I was rooming with who should be turning Pro next year). What made the day even better was that we all got word that all the bikes had made it safe and sound to the team hotel. After taking my bike back to the room I headed out for a quick run with a few efforts, just to keep the legs turning over before race day.

Thursday - I went for another sea swim before breakfast. I was eager to do as much swimming as possible to familiarise myself with sea swimming leading up to race day on Saturday.
 I then headed over with the lads (Hamish, Paul & Ali) to the team hotel for breakfast. This routine, of eating with the lads in the team hotel continued for the rest of my trip. After breakfast we all checked the team notice board to find out what team training/recce would be happening for that day. My age-group had scheduled a recce of the bike course that day. The course was a very simple 2 lap 'out and back' affair consisting of half tarmac and half tessellated bricks, which sent loads of vibrations through the bike. It was going to be an interesting bike section, but one I knew was going to be quick as you can stay in the 'aero' position for pretty much all of it.
 That evening I met up with the rest of Team GB for the 'Parade of Nations'. This consisted of Team GB parading through the streets on Alanya, along with all the other European nations involved in the championships and acted as the official opening ceremony of the 2013 European Championships. This was an extremely patriotic moment for me and I felt honoured to be representing Team GB.

Friday - I then packed all my race kit into my bag and got my bike numbered all ready for race day. After lunch, which was a massive carb fest, we all headed back to The Culture Centre for the final pre-race team briefing. The briefing was good with everything being explained thoroughly, followed by the Q&A session. After the briefing the whole of the Sprint Distance team gathered outside for the group photos. We then all made our way back to the hotel to pick up our bikes and cycled down in a massive convoy to rack our bikes for the big day on Saturday. Annoyingly Friday consisted of lots of walking, which isn?t ideal the day before a big race when all you want to do is rest the legs.

Saturday - Race day. Athletes in general are very superstitious and all have an element of OCD. I'm no exception and I have my own pre-race routine, which I do before every single race. It consists of breakfast (a tin of rice pudding) 3 hours before, 2 hours before I begin drinking my energy drink and then with 1 hour to go I have 1 caffeine energy gel followed by another, with 30 minutes to go.
 My swim start was at 7am so to allow me to have my breakfast at the correct time I was awake and tucking in to my rice pud at 4am!! After breakfast I checked all my kit and my race bag for the fifth and final time!! I then got all my stuff together and made my way to the team hotel with everyone else before we caught the team bus down to transition.
 Transition was a remarkably calm place and I continued in my own little bubble to get everything set up. After getting everything sorted and checking this more times than I care to remember I theN queued up to get my arms and legs body marked with my race number (156).
 I now began to start questioning had all my winter training been good enough? What was the competition in my age group like? To make matters worse over the PA system the organisers played a beating heart sound 'du dum, du dum, du dum' effect over and over!! We then all ran along the jetty, picked a spot on the pontoon, before jumping in.
 The hooter sounded and we were off! 100 meters of hard swimming in and I was amazed how quick everyone was and unfortunately I wasn't able to keep up with the stronger swimmers in the main bunch. I settled into a rhythm and focused on maintaining good technique to the first buoy, left round that and on to the second buoy, left round that buoy now to keep this effort all the way to the beach and the swim exit. Knowing that I had lost a bit of time to my fellow athletes I sprinted up the beach, through the shower and into transition.
 On entering T1, I noticed that I was near the back of the field and had left an awful lot to do on the bike and the run. I got to my bike quickly and threw my hat and goggles into the transition box, swiftly put on my helmet and sun glasses, picked up my bike and sprinted out onto the course
 I mounted the bike and set about attempting to make some time up. Unfortunately I had a serious issue and struggled to get my left foot into my cycle shoe, which resulted in me having to stop and put my foot in. This was a total nightmare and extremely frustrating as I had already a considerable gap to make up on the rest of my competitors. I was now in total smash-myself mode in an attempt to make up time. The course was wind free and dead pan flat so I was able to stay in the TT position for ~95% of the race only coming up to make my way round some of the tight turns, which are typically of an 'out and back' bike course. I was over the moon to find that after about 5km I was slowing catching the athletes that were ahead of me. This progression continued for the rest of the 2-lap bike course.

I hit T2 and was quickly out onto the run course with no problems. I knew I was going to take some more time back as my run legs were with me (which is one of my strengths).

I got into my stride and kept good form over the first of two 2.5km laps. Each lap there was a short 400m hill of roughly 8%, this really hurt but I pushed it hard up the hill and made the most of the longer shallow decent tying to keep a quick leg turn over.

The run route was lined with supporters and it was an amazing feeling to hear shouts of "come on Bray, come on GB". I put in a massive effort at the bottom of the hill and was able to run past more athletes (although I was unsure if they were in my age group) at the crest of the hill there was an aid station. I grabbed a bottle of water, poured it over my head in an effort to cool me down. I was now smashing it for home! I knew I only had a kilometre to go, so dug deep and headed for the finish chute.

Sprinting down the final 200m I was able to pick up a GB flag and crossed the line 15th in my age group.
This was promptly followed by some ice cold sponges, a few bottles of water to rehydrate and a dip in the ice bath in the athletes finishing tent. That was absolute bliss.

I would have loved a top 10 in my age group at my first attempt, but hey, I was still over the moon with my finish especially with a subpar swim and a sketchy T1. It was my first experience at racing at this level and an amazing race experience. This has been incredibly valuable for me in my development as a triathlete. Using the old fashioned cliché, I have leant some lessons, not just about myself but also what is required to compete at this level. I will now take this experience into upcoming races with the ultimate goal of Qualifying for the 2014 European Championships on 1st September at Newbiggin.

I would like to finish by saying a massive thank you to my parents who have supported me through a tough time for our family and secondly, my three sponsors; Coconoil, Meridian and last but no means least The University of Hull. Without all your help and support I couldn?t have achieved any of this J.