When Natalie asked if I’d write a summary of the last 2 weeks of racing, I was happy to help but was unsure what to say. I’m an air traffic controller and have a very sporadic shift pattern. I have to bid for leave a year in advance so I always try to book weekends off and then end up fitting in races around whenever I end up being off.
This is what lead, in part to me having 2 70.3 races in a week at the start of June.
Saturday 10th June saw my partner Adam and I rock up in a small town in Denmark called Herning for the European Middle Distance Championships. I’d raced this once before and been spectacularly bad, so I wanted to race and give a respectable performance in my GBR kit. If anyone has raced any ITU/ETU races, they are great fun and a totally different experience racing for your countries’ team, but the flip side is that everyone has qualified to get there and so it can be quite intimidating as everyone seems really good.
Anyway, neither of these races were A races, I like racing and they were races I wanted to do. That said, I still wanted to race well. I didn’t know the course for Herning and I knew the standard would be high so rather than aim for x position or time, I had in my head “don’t be shit”, then the onus was on me and me only.
So, the race.
Mass swim start which naively I was not nearly aggressive enough at the beginning. It’s amazing how quickly you get used to the rolling starts and basically, I missed the front pack of swimmers by starting way too far back. By the time I was through the melee of feet and fists, the fast feet were gone and I was in no-man’s land. Lesson learnt. Swim ended up about 31 mins which left me 7th, and was maybe a minute or so more than I’d hoped but no time to dwell!
The bike was rolling and windy with quite a few technical turns to keep us tested. I’m not as strong on the climbs but I love a windy course. I’d been struggling with my back&glutes over the previous month and they started to make their presence known once again. I tried to tactically sit up and wriggle around on the climbs and least windy sections in hope of managing it which seemed to work. Turns out I dropped a place in T1 (whoops!), so I started and finished the bike in 8th place with a 2:38.
On to the run. Consistently my weakest link. As I started I off I tried to get into a rhythm and focus on form and breathing. What seemed like a stream of people were coming past me and I allowed myself to check my pace on my watch. No, I was running fine for me, just everyone else was running faster. Unlike previously, at the ETU champs when I had been intimidated by this I just told myself that if all these guys could hold the 6:30 min/miles (4min kms) then good luck to them. I just reminded myself not to be shit and that meant doing MY race.
It was 4 loops with half being flat and straight and then half being undulating and technical and even going through (inside) the towns library! The first 2 laps I held steady and then it obviously started to bite a bit. But amazingly, although I knew I must have been slowing down, I was actually overtaking people. Miracle. That never happens.
At the end of lap 3 I confess to stopping to help a girl I knew. She was struggling with stomach issues and looked close to a DNF mentally rather than physically. If I’d thought I was in a shout for top 5 I confess I may not have stopped but I knew this was her first race for GBR and didn’t want her to look back and regret it so I scooped her up and ran with her for about a mile while giving her a stern talking to. I think they call it tough love.
This would have cost me at most a minute or 2 but that said, once she was running properly again, it kept me pushing as I didn’t want her to overtake me!
The last lap was a battle but still focusing on not being shit made me zone in on getting the most out of my body rather than worrying about those around me so I was delighted to cross the line in 5:05 and in 9th place.
It wasn’t anywhere near a PB but it wasn’t a PB course or conditions. And amazingly I only dropped one place on the run. For me, it was proving that I can block out what is going on around me and focus on my own performance. So much of racing is in your head and I’ve been guilty in the past of letting my performance be affected by how I think everyone else is doing.
So, roll on a week to 70.3 Staffordshire. I like every other Brit, had been checking the weather forecast every 30 minutes for the 5 days leading up to the race. Oh good, it was definitely going to be the hottest day of the year so far in the UK.
I feel almost embarrassed writing this knowing folk from South Africa will laugh at the pathetic daytime highs, but you have to understand, we (I) are not designed for the heat. We just aren’t used to it. I have fair skin and freckles and spend 6 months of the year training in about 0-5 degrees.
In Herning it must have reached 25 degrees. I was roasting. Staffordshire was predicted to be 34 degrees. I was going to fry.
Natalie reassured me that racing in PE in April would have prepared me, but I still had my doubts. The day before involved registering and visiting T1 and T2 before returning to registration for briefing. Staffordshire has one of the worst split transitions I’ve ever seen. It’s the last year they are running it and from an organisational point of view I very quickly understood why. In and out of the car between all the places meant we were travelling for 10 hours in total. Not ideal apart from the saving grace that the car had air conditioning so at least I stayed cool.
Anyway, fast forward race day morning and que constant announcements on the tannoy about sun lotion, keeping hydrated and not putting wetsuits on until the last minute. To anyone not from the UK they must have found it hilarious watching 2000+ athletes panic about a bit of sunshine.
The swim was in waves so after last week’s bad start, I was raring to go for a fast start this time.
Oh no, it was a rolling wave start. WTF. Oh well, we lined up in the anticipated swim times with one girl stood at 25 minutes and then about 3 of us in 30 minutes and then everyone else behind. I thought I’d do my best to get on the toes of the fast girl but very quickly realised that wasn’t going to happen. Keen to get some toes I just jumped on the feet of the guy next to me. Occasionally I pulled out thinking I’d overtake but realised I’d have to work so much harder for very little gain that it was wise to save energy and just sit it.
Turns out the swim was a bit long but another 31 min swim and this time 3rd out of the water.
The bike course was great apart from UK roads. I lost my bottle 3 times thanks to pot holes (I went back and got it every time) but aside from that it was a mostly rolling route through some lush countryside and pretty villages. With the weather being warm, loads of villagers were sat out having parties and picnics offering support as we went through.
While my legs felt great and I thought I was pacing well (my power meter was broken and then my bike computer kept coming off with the pot holes too so I had put that in my back pocket and raced purely on feel), every time I sat up from the TT position, I had noticed I was feeling a bit dizzy. Hmm, what to do about it? Get back in TT position for starters, fluid, nutrition, water over head? It was completely manageable so I was just hoping it would go away.
About 10 miles from the end of the bike course there was a climb that went on for about 4-5 miles. I tried not to push too hard up it but despite that I was very aware how hot my head was feeling. Id chosen to wear the least aero helmet going in a hope all the vents would keep me cool so was frantically trying to poor water over me whenever I could to get my temperature back down.
Like I said, we just aren’t prepared for any heat. When I had raced Ironman Malaysia (and DID cope with the heat), they had ice cold water every 10 miles. At Staffordshire, it was lukewarm half-filled water and far less often.
I apparently came off the bike 1st in my AG but with my weakest discipline still to come, it’s nice to have made up places but I can never get too excited about it.
Starting off on the run, I had the usual feeling of everyone around me running considerably faster than me. Again, a quick check of the watch and although a little slower than the previous week, the pace was fine. I was holding off a stitch so just doused myself in water at the first few aid stations in the hope that it would pass and I would be able to drink.
But very quickly my memories start to get hazy. It was a 3-lap mixed terrain run with a sizeable hill in the middle. After the first lap, I just started feeling really dizzy and weak. I had no pain in my legs, I just couldn’t really lift them off the floor. I was getting quite cross with my body as I wanted to push on, but instead I was weaving from side to side. This was not helped by the fact that I was finding the easiest way to manage how I was feeling (without stopping) was to run with my eyes shut. Seems stupid now, but in my mind, it seemed what I needed to do to keep moving but not slum into a heap on the floor.
Beforehand, Natalie had said, don’t be afraid to go hard, which I was honestly trying to do. I allowed myself to take a few seconds’ reprieve and take on what I could at every aid station but in between I was determined to keep pushing, and if that meant being scooped off the floor so be it. In amongst the haze, I do remember thinking a lot of people around me were no longer speeding past. As much as I knew my time was going to be terrible I ordered myself to keep digging as I maybe just maybe I wasn’t the only one struggling. I don’t remember the last few miles. I remember thinking “oh no, I’ve kicked for home too soon”, but that’s about it.
Apparently, I weaved up the finish shoot before face planting over the line. My partner Adam has some entertaining pictures, but I came around in the medical tent hooked up to various monitors.
The medics there were great. They were concerned by my HR and blood pressure but after lots of cooling and about 10 bottles of water, I was okay. Needless to say, I was not the only one in that tent.
Amazingly while my time of 5:31 was 45mins slower that my PB, I still came 5th/81. Yes, my run time was poor and some people coped with the heat amazingly, but I’ve only once been in that state in a race before and I slowed down and walked because I feared passing out. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really annoyed with my body for physically not showing up on the run and no-one actively wants to pass out. But I didn’t fear going to ‘that place’ and although I was totally wiped out for a good few days afterwards, I’m pleased that I know I got everything out of myself at that point in time.
I know I have improved hugely in training since joining Team Tissink at the start of the year, I just so very much want to put it together on race day. Hopefully that will come soon!
Certainly, plenty for me to work on especially with nutrition and fuelling and possibly re-evaluating doing 2 70.3’s in a week in the future! But hopefully if the body plays ball next time, I have a new-found confidence in toughing it out and pushing my limits on race day.
I ended up getting a slot to 70.3 World Champs which I wasn’t sure whether to take. Physically I wasn’t sure deserved it, but from the mental side of the performance I was so pleased. After a bit of a discussion with Adam, we decided to go for it. We like to use triathlon to see different parts of the world so USA road trip here we come.
I’ll just have to prove I deserve the place on 9th September.