This past weekend was my first race of the season: the iron-distance Ironcat triathlon in L'Ampolla, Spain (about an hour south of Barcelona.) This is a small race put on by the local club; there were only about 250 participants.
I will write more about my own personal experience over on the Team Timex blog, but I figured that I would include basic facts about the race here, since there is not a lot of English-language information about this race.
L'ampolla is a small-ish town on the Mediterranean at the south end of Catalonia. We chose to drive from Germany, but I talked to several other people from the UK and Germany that flew into Barcelona. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants in town, as well as grocery stores. It was a little bit touristy -- enough that there were menus, etc. in English, but not so much that everything was overpriced and annoying.
It was about 24C on race day and the winds weren't too strong. One of the organizers told me that in previous years, it has been very windy. For the first half of the bike, there was almost no wind, but it increased slightly in the second half. However, this meant there was a tail wind for the last half of my final lap, so that was great. On the run, the only time I noticed the winds were very occasional cooling gusts that were very pleasant.
The course map on the race website (www.ironcat.org) is very detailed and is in Catalan, Spanish, and English. All of the e-mails I received from the organizers were also tri-lingual. This was the 11th edition of the race, so they have this down to a science.
The race briefing, however, was entirely in Catalan and there didn't seem to be any instructions for English speakers. I had looked at the presentation before attending, so I was able to follow along and note where they seem to suggest special attention. After the brief, I came forward to ask my questions individually and they found someone to explain the answers. With that, I was clear on how the race would go.
Transition opened at 6 am, 1 hour before the start. They verified our numbers and helmet and we went to our racks. The numbers appeared to be sequential, but my number was missing. I then realized that the women were consolidated in a different rack (our race numbers were randomly in with the whole group, so they were not sequential.) In transition we laid our stuff out by our bikes and didn't use gear bags like other long-distance races.
The swim is three laps counter-clockwise around a rectangle, before you peel off and swim into the marina. The start is on the beach, and you only need about one or two steps before the water is deep enough to swim in. However, it is still pretty shallow at that point, so I was careful not to dive too deeply.
There are not a lot of natural sighting landmarks to use, but I didn't have problems seeing the buoys (big yellow spheres). The water is pretty clear, so it was easy to see other swimmers.
The exit of the swim is up the boat ramp in the marina. They had put down rubber matting to facilitate getting out of the water. There were also some fresh water showers a few steps away. The run to T1 is only about 100m.
With such a small field, the transition zone is pretty small. For both T1 and T2, we entered one end and exited at the other.
The bike course is 6 laps of an out and back. When you start and finish, it goes a bit farther to the transition area, but the usual turnaround is the roundabout in front of the Flamingo Hotel. The turnaround at the far end is just before the village of Camarles. There was a tent set up, so it was easy to see from a distance and the actual turn point was marked by cones.
I drove the course ahead of time and found it difficult to figure out exactly where to go, but once I rode it on my bike, it was much easier. However, there are no paint markings that I could see. On race day, there are plenty of arrow signs, as well as volunteers and police at the intersections.
Generally, the course is very flat and the road surface is good. I noticed a lot of little bugs hitting me on the section out to Camarles, so make sure you breathe through your nose! I was only out of the aero position a handful of times: the Hotel Flamingo roundabout, and the 90 degree turn to go out to Camarles. Be ready to spend a lot of time on your aerobars.
Here is where things were a little different then a usual IM race: At the race brief, I asked what they meant by "individual" and "organization" aid stations. The guy explained that you could get outside assistance (unlike WTC races). Since the water was only provided in 33cl screw top bottles that wouldn't fit in water bottle cages, I pressed my husband into service and had him give me a new 750ml bike bottle at the Hotel Flamingo roundabout. I would toss him my used bottle and he would give me a new one. This worked very well, and I was very thankful that I happened to put an extra bottle in the car before we left. The volunteers at the aid stations had unscrewed the water bottles and the water was cold, so that was a nice treat on the last few laps. If you just want to refill an aerobottle, you'll be fine with the on course water.
I was not completely sure of what to do when I came back to the transition zone, but the race officials had things roped off well and someone pointed to the entrance area. I knew I was following then same flow as T1, and someone else showed me where the run section started and also handed me a water. The transition area has an aid station, portajohns, and a sunscreen table. You'll pass through this area once per run lap.
The run is also 6 laps of an out and back. One end is along the coast, heading south. The other end is the far end of the pier. After leaving the transition aid station, the next one is at the south turnaround at 3.5km. The course is slightly rolling as you go through town and at 3km, you'll head onto a dirt road that ends at the aid station. This is also slightly uphill heading out, and this is where you'll receive your band for each lap. In this case, you got a black band every lap until the sixth and final lap, when you got a white band.
So the run course broke down to:
Head out of transition >>> aid station and turnaround @ 3.5km >>> back through transition @ 5.5km >>> turn around at end of the pier @ 6.25km >>> back to transition @ 7km. Repeat 6 times.
The course alternates between the road, the boardwalk, and the sidewalk. It is well marked with cones/tape/arrows and there are lots of spectators cheering. In some places, there are dips in the sidewalk, so be sure to pick up your feet. Also, there are various bollards you need to avoid in the area by the pier.
On the final lap, they will direct you to the finishing chute. I saw lots of people finishing with their family members.
There was plenty of room to relax, plus there were massages and a station with various drinks, sandwiches, and paella. This area is immediately adjacent to transition, so it was no problem to go pack up all my stuff. After the awards ceremony, we enjoyed a pizza dinner before heading to our rental house.
This is a huge advantage of this race: many people may find the lap format boring (I don't), but it gives your family plenty of opportunities to see you. There is a raised area near the swim where you can easily watch the whole course and the exit. For the bike, spectators can hang out at the beach while you are out of town. And there are a couple restaurants on the run course. My husband enjoyed a leisurely meal, and would walk a few feet to cheer when I came by. There is also a playground right in the middle of town.
I thought this was a very well run race and I really enjoyed the laid back, party atmosphere. Another bonus is that all of the food we ate while in L'Ampolla was so delicious. There were a few times when I wasn't completely sure of what was going on, but it didn't bother me. I would recommend that future racers really study the information provided and learn some key words in Spanish to make race day a bit less stressful.