“You’ve been disqualified!” Edward shouted at me from the sidelines as I laid on the cement, feeling the adrenaline and pain surge through me. In what universe was this situation ever imagined? First, let’s back up.
I was in Seville for the Sevilla-Itálica half iron distance triathlon. It was a small local event that fit perfectly into my calendar to top off winter training and get me into race mode for the start of my 2017 season. Pre-race was a wash of Spanish but, regardless of the language barrier, it was still swim, bike, run.
We were 90% sure we knew where the start venue was. I hadn’t realized it was a double transition event and the technical guide didn’t have a map or list an address. Thanks to Google Earth, a YouTube video of last year’s race, and some translating, I arrived on time, in the right place. After figuring out the wetsuit bag situation, racking my bike, and realizing there were no toilets (seriously?!), I jumped into the water at dawn and began to warm up.
We were called out of the water on to the dock and the race start was delayed. We all stood there shivering for ten minutes. Then ten minutes more. Another fifteen. A total of 45 minutes passed and then all of a sudden people were running into the water. Was this the start? Or just the swim to the start line?! Regardless, I was frozen so I sprinted full gas to try and warm up. People stopped to lined up so I took my place bobbing on the start line and caught my breath. I got that funny feeling other competitors were talking about me but it didn’t matter, after about 30 seconds, people started sprinting and so did I.
It was a rough start, to be honest. I was clobbered by men, swimming over me and weighing me down under the water. I was excited to start racing again but I did not miss this. I worked my way to the edge to get some space and found a rhythm. I followed feet around the oddly shaped course and mix of large and practically invisible buoy markers. I approached the dock and, in a very unlady-like fashion, hoisted myself up and barrel rolled on to the deck. Over the dock, up the cement stairs and into transition I ran, feeling that surge of energy and focus of racing that I had missed.
I’m not sure who thought laminated direction signs on the ground were a good idea for wet feet to run over but one foot into transition and smack! I landed on my elbow and bum hard. As I explicitly described my annoyance of being on the ground, I heard Edward’s voice. I got up to run and started to process what he was saying.
“There was a separate women’s start group,” he said.
“But it said ‘mass start’,” I replied, yanking my wetsuit down.
“They will disqualify you but keep racing. They said you could keep racing!”
With my all-male competitors, I flew on my bike with my throbbing elbow and got going, only to be stopped. The course was still closed and quickly a peloton of confused, angry, u-turing triathletes formed. Volunteers rushed to remove barriers to open the course and I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the older Spanish women who got a face full of what I can only assume were four-letter Spanish words as each athlete passed her by.
Finally on the main course, I settled in and let the peloton break up. The bike course was a double loop of headwind out, tail wind back. It was primarily flat with some rollers and some out-and-back fingers. Making the most of my DQ, I practiced my pack riding skills with a few of the men. The bike went well but I was not a fan of the one-lane contraflow, the off-camber contra-flow corner, and the congested u-turns. I was happy to get off my bike and into T2.
The run was going to be a mystery. After smashing it the day before, I was coming in with very bruised big toe. When my feet hit the ground, I was happy my toe felt perfectly fine; however, the mystery of the run course remained.
I got into the Italica ruins and, for lack of any other option, went with the flow. There were no direction signs, only oddly placed distance markers for each of the three distance races on offer. “Count your laps, it’s carnage,” Edward yelled at me from somewhere in the crowd, his English standing out among the Spanish.
The course was off-road, technical and hilly. Along with the Roman ruins there were steep hills, downhills with massive erosion cracks, slippery moss, narrow contraflow, pot-holed cement, chunky gravel, and a weird two foot step up; plus, the loop snaked and weaved all over the place. People were stopping because, with no direction markers or marshals, they were understandably confused. I got the lay of the land but I was also confused. Four laps did not add up to he advertised 22km course. It must be four plus a half to get to the finishing chute, I figured, since 5 would be 25km. By my calculations, however, four and the finishing chute still wouldn’t add up to 22km, not even a standard half marathon of 21.1km.
Math aside, after four and something laps, I ran down the finishing chute. The next girl behind me only ran three and a half loops so I wasn’t the only one completely lost. If the locals were confused, it wasn’t just the language barrier.
I spent the next 30 minutes ensuring the marshals knew I was disqualified but no one seemed to understand or care. After another 3 hours collecting my gear (2 of which were spent waiting for my wetsuit while they randomly picked one transition bag out of one mass pile and read out the number) I was tried, hot and, since there were still no toilets to be seen, well past ready to leave the worst organized race on the planet. I wasn’t alone. No one seemed to be sticking around for the podium and, by the amount of people that left, I don’t even know if there was one.
With a grand total of 69 miles, not the standard 70.3 that makes up the half iron distance, “not quite” seems to sum up the race. I was happy with my performance but, if there was anyone that needed a practice race, I hope the race organizers realize there were more than 1.3 miles missing.