Oravaman Triathlon. 15th July 2017. Zuberec, Slovakia. – Report by Chris Higgins
Here we are, two hundred give or take, like minded souls dressed almost entirely in rubber standing thigh deep in lovely warmish water. Yes, it’s a triathlon.
To be honest standing there dwarfed not only by some of the other competitors but more so by the beauty, magnificence and indeed majesty of the surroundings.
Exactly four weeks prior to this day, I was in a similarly stunning though different location waiting to embark on what was to be an epic day in the Lake District tackling Triathlon X and now here I am with the ever patient ever supportive L.W. Fenella smiling from the shingle beach.
This then is Oravaman. Part of a trilogy of Slovakian based triathlons that combined represent the Oravaman Extreme Tour and includes Janosik and Goralman races.
How then did I end up in this shimmering silver expanse at the foot of the Western Tatra Mountains. A chance meeting in a shop in Ambleside with a chap who turned out to be an elite mountain runner and extreme Triathlete. It was Chris Stirling who in his quite unassuming way encouraged, convinced, cajoled whatever the terms are to dip my toes in a branch of the sport closer to my heart than previous events I’d done. As he said ‘ a race that starts in a lake and finishes on a mountain top’ what more could you want.
Why Extreme Triathlon. I guess the environs and terrain denote the nature of the events but I have another theory.
The participants organisers and usually small local communities that form the hub to such events have in our experience been extremely generous, extremely welcoming and extremely supportive. Yes I’m sure thats it.
So to the race, long course start at 08.00 claxon, washing machine water turbulence and we’re off. The water is fantastic, not warm not cold very slight chop. Every breath or sighting reminds you of your surroundings, huge cliffs rise to have their peaks shrouded in cloud. First lap done, out of the water in my case stagger round the beach marker back in the water, more washing machine. Manage to hang on a faster swimmers feet, not literally but was tempted, sure she had an outboard in her suit. Drafting as it’s called like this make a huge difference to the amount of effort you expend for the same speed. Similarly on a bike though in most races that’s illegal but not in the swim.
Out of the water. There’s a chap with a video camera waist deep at the waters edge seemingly following my progress. I suck my lips in an effort to look like those people I’ve seen on magazine covers, skin tight over their cheek bones, steely eyed. On to my feet, run, down on my knees, crawl, on to my feet, stagger, thank god dry land. Lips, still pursed.
Bit of a mix up when entering the race sees my bike racked with the shorter course participants bikes. This is good, they haven’t started the swim yet so loads of room to get my wet suit off and looks great on the photos like I’m first at of the water. I’m not, but to be fair I’m not last, I think.
Onto the Bike. Weather is very kind. I know better cyclists than me have had some bad falls on the descents in wet weather so that’s a relief.
There are three major climbs in Oravaman each traversing Huty, the name of a village and I think the summit of the climb. The approach from the lake to the start of the climb is steady, slightly uphill in places, flat and slightly down hill in others.
The start of the climb it’s self wakes you up if a shake was needed. Not as steep as the Lakeland passes of the X but like a maths teacher I once had, goes on and on and on. Eight kilometres to the summit then the descent. What a thrill.
Remember as a kid dragging your sledge up a hill for ages just for the few exhilarating minutes to go down, well that was Huty all over. Just like those alpine roads you see on the telly, look down and see where you’ve been . Fantastic though have to say after the third traverse, think me Mum wanted me in for me tea.
The remainder of the Bike course passed through Zuberec where I reckon in addition to people travelling with competitors every villager was n the streets. L.W. no idea how, was as ever perfectly positioned fore to see her, jumping up and down and waving like she was guiding a Jumbo on the tarmac. Actually…….
Last descent, into Zuberec for the final time. Chuffed as anticipated having a half hour cushion by the time I reached the second transition area where I’d leave my bike and begin the run ascent. I was so looking forward to the run, high on a long ridge above the village and the descent that Chris had told me about.
I felt good, buoyed by the Bike so far and then it happened, whatever it was.
I had totally messed up with a previous days driven bike recce having in my mind the exact location of T2 . Nope I was miles out. As I approached where I though I should have been getting off the bike to run marshals directed me onto a tarmac forest road that I realised had had a barrier across it during my recce. There were people ahead of me though in such a field I strongly suspected I was playing tail end Charlie.
Having no idea where I was or how far I had to go I pushed on as best I could. To be honest panick started to set in as a glance at my watch showed the cut of time slowly getting closer any hope of a cushion slipping through my now very sweaty fingers.
A marker for 5k. I’d not seen any previous that said my head head literally been in a position to maintain my nose against the grind stone so I may have missed others. With the twists , turns and incline of the road I lost sight of any one in front and behind. Now convinced I was last. So long as I make the cut off. Was the 5k anything to do with the race I thought all sorts of doubts flooding my thinking whilst lactic flooded me poor old pins.
I’m not a macho person, I hope, preferring to associate with those who have an enviable quiet stoicism about them much like those competitors I’ve mentioned above and indeed my own children. So when I say ‘I don’t give up’ I’ve recently learned I don’t consciously give up for one second I’m pedalling, just, the next I’ve clumsily unclipped and am sat on my top tube draped over the handlebars of me trusty steed. I’ve exactly two minutes to make T2 where ever T2 might be !
Try to clip in three or four times a manoeuvre I can usually manage pretty much anywhere. I end up doing the worse impression of River Dance ever seen in a forest in Slovakia, I simply can’t get on me bike.
Had it not been for the lack of tissues and I am from the Midlands I would have cried. I’d never felt this bad, dizzy, sick, despondent, angry. Without further ado and with lack of forethought I turned rolled a few yards down hill, turned again repeat. In the end I turned and headed for the race H.Q to withdraw. Whilst descending I past several others coming up, at least I hadn’t been last after all.
So a dream race turned to a nightmare. Why, stupid stupid error on my part, not the mistake during the recce, not lack of fitness or pre training, lack of food.
I simply hadn’t eaten enough during the bicycle leg. I’d done this before and got away with it but Oravaman was, is a different kettle of fish.
It’s just like ‘Take me out’ no glycogen no movey ‘ .
All that said it was a fantastic experience. As Jo, Sally and others ‘supporters’ have commented it’s a learning experience and curve.
A day or two after, Fenella and I went for a nice long run in the mountains descending into what would have been T2. We decided to run the rest on the tarmac road to see if I was anywhere near when I pulled up. Passing a sign painted 500 Mtrs, we rounded a bend a further fifty metres led us to the spot where my race had finished. There had been markers then.
We, Fenella and me, met some great people. David the only Irish representative, lovely mild mannered chap is now a friend and no I didn’t stalk him.David sent a friends request of his own volition, the second voluntary one I’ve had, Mum being the other.
Would I do another Triathlon, no way, not until me and L.W. travel to the Outer Hebrides for a two day race in a few weeks? hen it’s back over the Scots Border for Ben Nevis Triathlon, gotta finish this one surely!
And the dream that was Oravaman. ‘E’ mailed Peter the race director the following day to thank him and his team and to find out what the date of next years race is
so we can book accommodation. He’s not sure yet. I feel a bit of stalking coming on.
Bude ako nebolo they say. Their right, like never before .