Thursday, August 16, 2001

Fiesta Time

I am furtively writing this, as Rob attempts to sleep a little. He had a bad night. We are staying in a cheap, old almost Australian-style country pub, with its Spanish flavour. We have good vibes about the place, and although it was the 37th (or thereabouts) option when attempting to get accommodation in a small place, not in, Cabazon de la Sel on the edge of the Cantabrian western border with Asturias, surrounded by ~ mountains (of course), thermal springs and National Parks. This suits us fine, it is maybe 10-15km away on a local road, and this is THE Spanish National Holiday. It is the Assumption or something religious, but hedonists like Australians, the main (& only really important) thing is that it is THE summer holiday month (cf. January), and this is the biggest long weekend of them all.
Why do we want to be near Cabazon de la Sel? It is a gorgeous very old town, with some wonderful ancient buildings and a good feel to it amongst the winding narrow streets. However everything, literally everything except a couple of bars, are closed this week. It is a humdinger of a Fiesta on the 14th & 15th of August. This includes a half marathon (maraton medio). With Rob within a couple of hundred kilometres there didn't need to be any other excuse.
We pre-registered on Tuesday, with some difficultly and the owners or staff of the two open bars in town (the Americano & the Pariasio) walking around the streets asking people on balconies, feeding their own money into timed local call (yuck) telephones, and really going out of their way. The smoking woman from the athletic club walked to the bar to meet us and take our details. On the day, entry would have been about AUD$10. On Tuesday, it was for nix. How does that go for Half Marathon value? There should be a big turnout, as the prize place money is substantial, although there is only one category for women, there shan't be too many taking part in relation to the men, methinks. As with Sundays' Triatlon, from a field of 122, 12 starters (to wit, <10%) were women, and only people with very respectable times entered. (Apart from me, who came last). Among the women I came 11th, and last overall after the disqualifications and DNF's (non finishers) were taken off the c!
course. In challenging conditions (mad dogs and Englishmen & all that) my 3hr4min in the midday sun, without a wetsuit, with mountains, and not having the faintest idea of the course or what one was being directed to do was OK. Not having swum since around the 20th June, I was delighted.
I expect the run will be the same today. Few women will turn out, and those who do, will be of a high standard. I'm actually quite accepting my anticipation of a last place again today!


Apres Race
200 entries, about 11 women, and most pretty good although the times were a little slower overall than expected by the style in which the winners were running. Both Bob & I got hideous porcelain vase style trophies (no money)for our places, (and mine is bigger than his), and a T-shirt and goody bag for finishing. Our entry fee was zero! Not bad for 3 races in three weeks (thus 3 extra t-shirts).
Love the pub/pensione where we are staying and its' owner. We will stay here until Sunday, there may be a small local duathlon on Saturday, however cannot yet find any information or contact details. The place is a slightly run-down spa resort of a past era, with this bar, and a 'Gran Hotel' full of ancient people paying to take the waters, play bingo, and ?relax. There is also a water bottling plant. We plan to cycle tomorrow, and had a tremendous time at the Half Marathon, 4 laps through the town, including crossing a major 8 line railway line twice in each lap. With runners in each direction, it was amazing to see the scheduled train held up at the station for heavens knows how long to let us pass. Tremendous fun.
Bob has changed his mattress, and in talking cycling to the owner, have found out that he is a masseuse. Bob could benefit greatly in the next day or two.
More later,
Adios se'

Fiesta Time at the Spa

Sheer cliff faces; rock walls; goat track terrain; or very hilly. It is now about four weeks since Bob & I left Australia. The first few days or so in Southern France seem such a blur and so very distant, both in culture and in time. As we shift a little further west and south each week, following the warmth and the sun, we have stayed in a progression of vastly different places, run in entirely differing manners. After leaving Paulette & John in Southern France, our one night in an elaborate hotel over the Pyrenees border was followed by the 4 spent in a pensione attached to a Euro campground at a Basque seaside resort, and then the wanna-be, gonna-to Fawltyesque rural pensione in eternal construction on the hillside of a dot on the map called Concha, nearing the next dot of San Estaban. The unbelievably intrusive and macho owner, Ignacio, made an enormous show of everything, singing, sweeping and opening every door to each room, yet did no work, kept his wife locked up whilst invading others dinner, and had the place quite dirty and run down. Luckily, as this was the only available accommodation for enormous distances during this holiday period in Spain, it was made bearable by the other guests, a group of five Italians travelling together, with whom we shall visit in Ferrara near Bologna when at the world championships, and another delightful family of four from Rome. This ensured our sanity, and made the pensione a good base to explore the surrounding countryside, however we were unable to warn them on the morning of our departure of how the owner was exploiting his good fortune in the capacity of other places and sought to charge extras for every conceivable little thing. Bob and I were too tired and anxious to get on our way to argue over matters of principle then. However he shall neither see the return of guests, nor ever near the finalisation of stages 1, 2 or 3 of his dream in progress.
Two desperate nights were spent in a very pleasant place, a new bar, supermarket and accommodation, near the old town square and church of what appeared to be a tiny old town in the middle of nowhere. However, here in the middle of nowhere was full-scale production of a new town of casa's and villas in sympathy with the old style around them. The day of our arrival also saw the funeral of a local woman in her 40's from the hospital, and the bells chimed solemnly and the place was packed with people for miles around. The mornings' construction began early, and the run we shared the first day up a steep hill & then over to the busy National Route and the edges of a large city was not promising or fun. The next day Rob was unwell to run, and I wound my way the other direction on a secondary local road to another village, looking down on the 2-dimensional bell towers which centred every settlement for many miles and feeling strong and the last week has been entirely different once more. Booked sight unseen on the 27th attempt, it was always a risk, however the price was right. It looks and feels in many ways like an old Australian country pub, there may be an ancient table soccer table in the corner under the television, and another dining area instead of a ladies saloon, however it feels much the same. The rooms at the top of the stairs wind their way along a corridor that curves in line the building as it hugs the narrow street, dipping down two steps 2/3rds of the way as it nears the spot where rooms cross the road to the other building that sits on the side that gives the pub its name ~ 'El Parque'. The rooms are simply furnished, with pieces that indicate that they have been here close to the time of photos that are here and in the other Grand Hotel that forms the basis of the place, a (healing water) spa for those born before the (Spanish Civil) war. In a setting from a 1,000 anonymous movies, eighty-something's, principally women, dress for dinner and shuffle around with an air, which would indicate their status. Waitresses in starched white pinafores over black dresses serve with discretion and down cast eyes, always aware of wayward walking canes and Zimmer frames. In the series of ante rooms that lead to the dining room, card tables set with thick green baize for dominoes or card games are ever ready, and etchings of a whimsical golden age of nymphs (and the healing water urns) lie beside the odd photo of the burning of these same buildings by Franco's troops at the end of the civil war in 1939, taken by a foreign photographer and released only recently, or more grandiose pictures of the same Spa Resort in a time when the trees in the garden of El Parque are so much smaller, and it looks like a wonderland with the streets and hillsides covered in snow.
In the pub, rather than the 2 Star Spa Hotel, where chimes indicate along with an announcement that a phone call is to be received, the furniture is good solid stuff, mottled by wood worm, however some fine pieces are amongst them, including an enormously long sideboard in the main dining room. The owners here are fine people, as different to Ignacio and his horrendous treatment of his pleasant wife as could be imagined. Antonio is the omnipresent barman, server of breakfast whenever we emerge, and one to lock up at the end of a long night. He is always available to give advice, takes an enormous interest in our cycling, and has photos of one of the local cycling heroes decorating the bar. A closer inspection reveals more differences here than merely the beer on tap, a huge leg of ham (jamon) lies on an electric slicer behind the bar, as in every other place in the area for bar snacks or tapas. From early afternoon, a tortilla, and small regional raciones of food appear behind the bar, alongside a limited selection of wines, sherry and local spirits such as Anis.

Sunday, August 12, 2001

My First European Triatlon

Well, I am thinking (a bit) like a Spaniard. Definitely on Manyana time anyway.
First ~ when a cycling course is "dead flat", this should be taken in the context of this part of Spain having;
i) sheer walls of stone;
ii) v.e.r.y. high mountain roads; and
iii) very hilly ones.

The swim was good ~ although sans wetsuit, and known for my fast and elegant style (or not) ~ the goosebumps started before the first enormous red buoy, on a two lap triangular course. There were only three or four others without wetsuits. I was comfortable in the swim however, the water was clear, fresh and cold, and thought my style was pretty good, although it was quite lonely out there. As I neared the yellow & red buoys, which marked the chicane, through which one swum for the 2nd lap the thought crossed me that perhaps (for the first time ever), I may not be lapped in the swim. Just as I ruminated on this momentous thought, a young powerhouse came through, followed a long way behind by a 2nd. Oh well, two ain't too bad. The loneliness of a slow distance swimmer (hypothermia was beginning to set in), I kicked hard thinking what Vark would say. Lost in admiration for the beautiful fish and sea life near the exit, I decided I better get a hurry on. Stumbling up the strange "urban beach" (las playa urbane), a curved series of concrete steps, wide enough to place a towel & thumb ones' nose at skin cancer. A shower up the steps to 'box 1', the bike racks on the pier, and lonely with nary another bike in site (there may have been 3 behind me), onto the dead flat cycle course.

As Bob & I aren't so keen on dead flat, the Spanish equivalent ~ imagine Coppins/Cotter/Urriarra or the Gillies with fewer bends ~ and stunning scenery & pueblos every 2 km or so ~ was pretty good. Few raced with aero bars, Bob thought because of the terrain, I thought as the road cycling culture was so strong. We were both pleased with our bike legs, with more marshals, local, state and national police than competitors. They blew whistles loudly and often and were fantastic. Some of them in their uniforms are particularly attractive the eyes of one Australian lass. By the half way turnaround, the 3 guys behind me had overtaken on the bike. I caught a girl at about the 30 km mark, but she may not have finished the race, as I did not see her on the run.

Coming back through town with it's heavy tourist trade, cobbled and one way streets, the confusing entry was less of a challenge as I was riding abreast of a guy (fat) on a motor cycle, with whom I chatted (he spoke no English, so this was a challenging conversion for about 15k), however as the backmarker, he did assist me enormously in getting back to transition.

Confusion no. 2: You handed your bike to someone (this took Bob & I ages to work out during the race), went to a series of numbered plastic crates (box number 2) in which we had earlier placed our running gear. A Good System. As usual, it took forever to pull my extra large and wide (size 43) shoes on, grab my Gorgeous blue Cairns Half Ironman cap, and find out which way to go. Que sera sera. Eventually heading in the correct direction along the roadside "bici solo" bicycle lane, there were four laps of very pleasant running. The beachfront (sand on the eastern side) was choc-a-block with wall-to-wall sun worshipers, the cafes were a'pumping, and more marshals controlled the pedestrians who might cross our path.
I felt fantastic on the run, legs were turning over at a great rate, however I suffered from Deek's marathon victory complaint, and my perennial problem with running. Despite a special diet for a couple of days beforehand, the public nature of the promenade run with literally thousands of people meant that my case of the runs was particularly u pleasant. There are no toilets, even if I had a mind to pull out for a while. I dropped my intensity in frustration knowing that this would partially ameliorate the situation, however I just wanted to run, and run fast!
It was a vaguely respectable time in the conditions (hot, humid & hilly), with my famous slow swim and freezing for the first 20-odd km on the bike. However, here people don't do triatlon (the dropped 'h' is how they spell it), unless pretty good, they are young (none in the age group above me, and all but one chica (woman) in my F35-39 age group damn them; and it is a machismo sport. I was last in a tad over a language challenged 3 hours, however the draft busters were out in force with 13 or so disqualifications, and half a dozen DNF's.
With a $15 (approx) entry fee, one handed in the pliable plastic race number for your goody bag; local produce and drink assortment and basic printed white T-shirt detailing the race. A voucher for parking until 2p.m. worth about $5 was included with the race number, cap (to be returned coming out of the swim), and bike number. Good value.

Lots of ideas for conducting triathlons at home (Cairns y Canberra). Bob's cold is a little worse, and he hated the swim. However it was not in his nature to watch me, despite my imploring him to race a bike or foot race, but not enter the water. I guess I knew I never had a chance.

Snooze soon, then hopefully an attempt to plan the next direction in which to head.