Anna Cleaver reports in on her 2nd placing at the TriGrandprix in Zarautz, Spain

TriGrandprix in Zarautz, Spain is a race that is not that well known in our part of the world. From all accounts the atmosphere and the crowds that turn out to cheer on the triathletes is amazing and rarely seen. New Zealand's (and sometimes Sydney resident) Anna Cleaver went to this race and

Eskerrik Asko Basque Country! Muchas gracias Zarautz and TriGrandPrix!

Thank you to Zarautz and to TriGrandPrix for putting on such a well run event!

What an amazing experience. As Catriona Morrison said in her interview this race should be on your bucket list of must do events. The swim is a stunning 2.6-3km (conditions depending) one way ocean swim. The bike takes you along the coast of Basque Country and into the mountains. It is a challenging but spectacular ride. Both the swim and bike are highlights in themselves. However the run… never have I experienced a run like it. The course takes you through Zarautz and along the ocean, including planks and sand running (watch the ankles!), but the most impressive thing about the run is the people. Crowds lined the streets 8 deep in parts cheering passionately and loudly. Drums, singing, cheering, children wanting a high five, adults dressed in peculiar costumes. It had it all.

Pre Race

I was fortunate enough to stay in Orio for the weeks leading up to the race. Orio is a town next to Zarautz. This had the benefit of allowing me to familiarize myself with the cycle course, experience the culture, rest in between sessions and be part of a family (thank you sovery much to Jose and Claudia who kindly opened their home and their hearts to me, you will always have a bed at my home!). After travelling for so long it was lovely to be settled in a home environment.

Orio residents speak Basque and very rarely English. So it was a challenge at times. I became known as ‘The Tourist’. It worked out well, for example while walking down the street a lady grabbed me and signalled for me (“the tourist”) to follow her. There was a parcel for me at the post office with my new running shoes. Nice. I had many conversations with people in the streets, some things are universal such as a smile, a nod and a laugh. There are seriously too many great stories to tell you here, so maybe I can share them with you one day over some pinchos.

Because of the blister problems I had after Florida I laid off the running in my prep and focused on nailing the swim/ bike training. I wasn’t too worried as I knew my fitness would get me through the run and I didn’t want to show up to a race with damaged feet. It worked, the feet healed and with a change in shoe brand I was ready to run.

Race Day

3pm start? Everything starts later in Basque Country. At home I eat dinner at 7pm, here 11pm is the norm, so it wasn’t a surprise that instead of setting the alarm for 4am on race day I could sleep in and make my way to transition for a leisurely 3pm start.

Fortunately the Expo was excellent as I had forgotten a few things (race belt). Compressport saved the day also as I realized that I accidentally packed the wrong pair… so they were kind enough to make sure I had the right size that matched my NZL race kit and I was ready to go!

The girls were sent in a bus to the swim start with about an hour to spare. So we chatted until it was time for the swim warm up. It was a very relaxed atmosphere.

The Swim

A few Spanish / English language issues meant I wasn’t clear on where I should be aiming for in the swim as there were no buoys in sight from the beach. I knew the general direction though so when the gun went off I took off to immediately gap the rest of the field. Swimming by myself I got into my rhythm straight away with the lead kayaks being beside me so navigation was up to me.

I exited the swim 1st with a substantial margin and I remember thinking wow look at how many people are watching! Unfortunately I spent a few minutes in transition with one of the officials, him speaking in Spanish, me in English not understanding what he was asking of me. I eventually made my way on to the bike.

The Bike:

Similar hiccups in the first 8km of the bike with another official (note to self… learn more Spanish words besides hello and thank you!) meant that I couldn’t put the foot down and go for it quite as I wanted to. But I eventually got going and progressed through the 4 lap course. It is a challenging course and at no point do you get an insight as to what is happening behind you, so I didn’t know where race favourite Cat Morrison was.

The bike course is fun. You get equal opportunities to time trial on the flat as you do to climb. The last hill (Cat passed me just prior to this) is the most gruelling but is thankfully followed by a long descent into transition. The hardest part of the ride was the descents…. I wish I’d learnt the correct words in Spanish to call out to the age groupers to be aware that I was passing them going downhill around corners… scary in parts but made it through safely. Descents are harder on a TT bike but the Argon18 handled really well.

By now it was after 5.30pm, usually time for me to start thinking about what is for dinner! I wheeled my bike into transition and the crowds literally took my breath away. I was stunned at the number of people there cheering for me. A few more words Spanish/ English with the official in transition meant I wasn’t as fast as I would like in T2 (I eventually learnt that the race official was talking to me about how I was wearing my race belt, all sorted after the race. I’m sure it was equally as frustrating for him as it was for me with the Spanish/ English!).

The Run

For the first time in a while I felt fantastic in the run. I was able to maintain a good cadence and pick up the effort as I progressed. I raced in black Compressport and my legs honestly felt fresh the whole run so I could really focus on running fast. The crowds were mind blowing. The biggest cheers I have ever heard in a triathlon. There was a group of men that I passed on each of the three laps who were offering me cups of ice cold beer (note it was nearing 7pm on a hot Saturday so the thought did cross my mind to accept). Cat is a phenomenal runner so I really had to run my own race. I had no idea how far behind me the other girls were at any time. I frequently heard people yelling “Animo Animo”. I didn’t know what it meant but it sounded a lot like “Animal”. About 10 years ago when I used to race in NZ a good friend Silas used to yell at me “go you animal” when I was racing. So every time I heard it I pretended it was Silas and my other NZ friends cheering me on. Made me smile.

With the roar of the crowds it was hard not to sprint through the last km to the finish. I was happy with my 1hr22 run and 2nd place to Cat. Don’t get me wrong I like to win, but if I am going to be 2nd to anyone, I certainly don’t mind being 2nd to Cat Morrison. Cat is a phenomenal athlete and a genuinely really lovely person. I will see her in 2 weeks at the Liverpool 5150. It turned out I was 2nd with a substantial margin of about 8 minutes to 3rd. There were some incredible runners behind me so I was happy to maintain that 8 minute gap.

Post race

A fun presentation on the podium which resulted in me wearing champagne. Lots of photos with public and sponsors (it was great to see friends from Argon18 and Compressport there).

It may not have personally been the race of my life (I think that is yet to come!) but it was probably up there as one of the best race experiences of my life. I must thank Ben from Sydney and also Mirinda Carfrae for recommending the event to me, had it not been for them I would never have experienced it. The video and photo coverage was excellent so I look forward to sharing it soon. TriGrandPrix is a very impressive organization putting some unique races on the map.

Next stop France for some training. Then Liverpool 5150 and Zurich 5150. Got to get those points for Hy-Vee 5150!