Members of Coventry Triathletes started travelling to Brasschaat in Belgium for the ‘Superman Triathlon’ in the early 2000s. Bill Livingston and Steve Howes were both friendly with a Belgian Triathlete called Steph. His parents Jan and Leif, had a large bungalow near to the town and used to put us all up and feed us on fantastic Belgian cakes. One year, 2006 I believe, there were about ten of us, including spouses, sharing their loft on various put-me-up beds and mattresses.
It was an ‘odd’ distance, 2 k swim, 80k bike and 20 k run, referred to as an O2 (double Olympic). They also had quite strict cut off times. My own first attempt at the race in 2005 was cut short after an announcement on the day that the swim would be without wetsuits due to the temperature. I was late out of the swim and then lost more time cycling back after losing my water-bottle on the bike. I finished the first lap of the bike course outside of the cut off and was pulled from the race. We returned the following year, and I did manage to finish within the cut off time. The race route itself changed each year; I swam in three different lakes over three years. It was cheap to enter compared to British races at the time but there was no ’goodie bag’.
We put a relay team in one year (2006 I think). Although they competed as Cov Tri they called themselves the Pink Ladies and wore a pink version of the spots. Led by Pam Batchelor, they had all survived breast cancer and were raising money for that charity.
In 2007 the race was designated as the ETU long distance championships and as we had been racing regularly at the venue nine of us applied to race. There were no qualifying races for the event, we just had to ‘prove’ that we could complete the distance. We took quite a team out for the event, far too many this time for Jan and Leif to put us up, so we stayed in the same hotel as the rest of team GB.
Our reputation had preceded us and the BTF head coach gave us a pep talk, insisting that we did not drink alcohol the night before the event. This fell on deaf ears and several bottles of Duvel beer were consumed with our pasta. One of the other GB entrants was serving in the RAF, I won’t divulge his real name, but Brunty gave him the nickname ‘The Wing Commander’. He was incredibly good at letting everyone in earshot know how good he was. For some time after he seemed to turn up like a bad penny at a lot of the races we did. He was ‘on the mike’ at the National Relays for a couple of years and was either competing or marshalling at several other races.
Many more bottles of Duvel were consumed the following night when we celebrated finishing, we didn’t get a medal between us, but Cov Tri had more entrants than any other club and definitely drank more beer. The Wing Commander did not get a medal either, just a lot of flak from Brunty. We all got to wear the GB strip and, as we had paid through the nose for the privilege of wearing it, six of us signed up for the World Long Distance Championship the following year in Almere, Holland.
Long Distance European Championship 2007 Brasschaat
Almere was another ‘odd’ distance: 4 k swim, 120 k bike and 30 k run, classed as an O3 (triple Olympic). The race was held on Sunday 31st August 2008 with the Almere Iron Man distance being held on the Saturday.
The swim took place in one of the many man-made lakes in that part of the Netherlands and it was a point to point rather than a circular swim. The women started first Chrissie Wellington was in the GB elite team. Part way through the swim the sluice on one of the dykes was opened (we were never told why) and what was supposed to be a calm lake suddenly became very choppy. There were few marker buoys, they were not very high, and the swell made it impossible to see them. The current from the sluice was against us and we all spent a lot longer in the water than we expected. I was nearly two hours in the swim, and I know that even the strong swimmers were struggling by the time they got to T1.
The bike route was pancake flat, as would be expected in that part of Holland, and was a two-lap course. As I was finishing my first lap, I could hear the loudspeakers at the finish announcing Chrissie Wellington crossing the finish line and winning the women’s race. It was a couple of hours later before I finished the bike leg and started on the run.
The run if I remember correctly, was three laps; it was a very hot day. I saw Brunty on my first lap as he went by me on his last one and I remember trudging past Tony and Keith. On my own last lap, I was suffering quite badly from the heat and as I staggered towards the final water station the marshal stopped me, grabbed my hat, plunged it into a water barrel and replaced it on my head. I was close to collapsing and he reluctantly allowed me to carry on after insisting I rest and drink. When I did eventually finish, Chrissie Wellington was still on the finish line. She had waited, after finishing her own race, for every other member of the GB team to finish before leaving (over 3 hours). She shook all of our hands and gave us a kiss at the end of the race, a real team player. I have not washed that part of my face since.
Tony finished the race within a few hundred metres of the finish, seconds outside of the time limit. The time limits in Europe at the time were strictly enforced. Keith had to pull out on the run due to the heat. Bill Livingston, who had left Cov Tri by this time and was disqualified for a cycling infringement.
Long Distance World Championship 2008 Almere
I have included Chrissie Wellingtons times for comparison. The times on the photographs represent the elite waves, male and female, the ones in my chart are chip times.
The Brasschaat triathlon changed its format the following year and I have never been back.