After arriving from Hong Kong (NB: 30kg baggage allowance on Qatar) happy not to be turned away for being a UK passport holder and the bike arriving unscathed (thanks to Nick for lending me his bike bag at late notice). Having been handed the keys to the hire car, I venture off to find it. On arrival and an inspection proves the bike bag will not fit in the boot. But fear not "Costas", the hire car 'go to guy' sees my problem and shouts across the car park "You, Costa Navorino???" I look at him perplexed and then realize he's meaning the venue where the race will be held. I acknowledge his question with a thumbs up, he takes the hire car papers, crosses out this and inserts that then simply woddles off, only to return 10 minutes later with a new set of keys and a smile on his face. I'm shown the new car, get the bag in and depart to sea of "Good Lucks and you better finish...."
Was able to spend the evening with a friend in the seaside suburb of Athens called Glyfada (which is really nice). Now it is about a 300km journey and traffic in Athens is normally bad to really bad at the best of times. So with the jet lag in full effect, was up at 4am and decided to head off in the pitch black night, with a GPS that was not - from initial testing - in full operational condition and armed the idea that I must go west. After 2-3 false starts I'm off - in the right direction - with a GPS having a 'wardrobe malfunction' by not sticking to the window screen. I pass the old airport, through the suburb of Piraeus and am making good time. It is only with about 75m before a right turn off I realize I'm in the wrong lane and take evasive action and pull across two lanes of traffic to make the turning (at the same time the GPS decides to come flying off the window screen and continue to dictate instructions from beside my feet......). But luckily there is little traffic and all is well…. Phew!
Having broken through the traffic, am in the outskirts of Athens at about 5:30am and link up with the 'National Road' (NB: it is a toll Road, so bring lots of change) and it's just straight ahead for about 240km with very little other cars (bliss). All in, took about 4hrs 30 Mins to get to Hotel Navorone (www.hotelnavarone.gr). Great little hotel a very reasonable Euro 170 for three nights including breakfast. Get the car unpacked and the bike made up to head off for a small run. All starts well but due to various happenings leading up to the race my left calf is playing up and tightening (badly)... so I hobbled back to the hotel to rest and grab some lunch. Nearing dinner time by pure chance bump into a friend from the UK whom was also staying at the hotel. So booked a local taverna called "Katrina's" I think for dinner. The food was amazing (don’t go by the menu. Ask the waiter what ‘what is good’ and go with his suggestions.
The next day headed over to a lovely secluded bay (see front page of the 70.3 website) in the AM for a swim and test the wetsuit. It’s amazing to think we open water swim in HK with 1-3 feet of visibility…… I was there with the bottom about 5-6m down and you could still see the ripples in the sand. Anyhow I digress….. Headed back to the Hotel, grabbed lunch at a beach bar walking distance from the hotel and then went over to the expo for registration, bike/bag racking and race briefing...... All done and back at the ranch to watch a lovely sunset and make final preps for the race the next day.
Again jet lag is on my side, I'm up 4pm for breakfast and at T1 for about 6:15am. Bike checked, all good. A big bang goes off only meters away as someone's rear tyre explores (Bib 1010). Not the welcome you want after a 1.9m swim and a 700m transition. Anyway, I head down the swim start and faced with 3 to 4 foot waves breaking on the beach. Most - I assume - were expecting calm conditions and not strong winds and bad conditions, so I'm loving it...... we get herded into our starting pens (sub 30mins for me) and off we go...... swim was good until about 1100m as now turning into the current with waves increasing to abt 5-7 feet. With drafting a non-starter it seemed I was overtaking more people than expected and when I came ashore I looked down to see a sub 24 min time staring up at me (watch out Toby, me coming to get you!!)...... ran along the beach for 50m to cross the timing mat to head up the 700m transition of steps, carpeted pathway to get to the bike.
On paper the bike course looks medium....... but this is sadly an understatement. It’s a 2 loop course with the 1st 7-10km being flat then it ramps up to about 8% for 8km followed by 4-5km at 2-5%. This seems to be forgotten on the decent... heading at 65-70km/hr allows the legs to rest for what seems too short before u head up to the 2nd hill at a much more respectful average of 2-4%. Sadly my chain dropped and after cursing all the Greeks gods was able to get going again only to be faced with the 1st hill AGAIN. Half way up the 8% section my chain drops again!!! I'm seriously considering to throttle Sky Blue on my return but I return to the job at hand, get up the hill and speed down again. Last hill comes and goes and I'm heading back to T2 for about a 2hrs 50min bike split.......
Now comes a part of not how quickly this can be done but more of how much pain can be absorbed. Within the first 2km the left soleus has completely tightened up and I'm basically hobbling along at a 6min 30sec pace. I stop, stretch it out and tell myself to man up and get on with it. The course is along coastal paths and roads with little elevation. By 9-10km there is a constant ache of 7-8 out of 10 from the calf with the odd full spasm and to top it off I'm being overtaken but everyone and their dog. There's a small time b/w 13-15km where I pair up with a French man whose "not in it today" and we curse all greeks gods... again. He eventually pulls away and by 18-19km I'm walking the aid stations and just wanting the race over. The last 1km is a steep uphill section (yay) followed by a flat run in (or limping in my case) to the finish for a 5hrs 37min time.
All in, the course is great with a challenging swim and bike. The run is mainly flat with a few hilly sections. I got the fastest swim in my age group which was great. The location is amazing albeit over 4hrs from Athens. The volunteers along the way are very enthusiastic and one walks away with great memories. Now the question is would I do it again...... hell yeah. It's definitely a race to tick of the bucket list as one could combine it with a stay in Athens. Heading back is really easy, you simply get on the 'National Road' all the way back to airport (3hrs 20mins) where you can drop the car off and get a taxi back in to Athens (wouldn't recommend a hire car in Athens. Parking is a nightmare and leaving the car in the open - in central Athens - is just asking for trouble).
Ciao for now.