This year I fulfilled a dream I have secretly held for over 10 years, and qualified to represent GBR in my age-group at the ITU Sprint World Championships. I really only thought this would happen with a few more years of intensive and specific training and preparation. So to do it before I turned 50 was a real bonus. I've been so chuffed, the GBR kit is barely off my back!
So I thought I'd write about my experience at the Championships and give some insight into what happens and how it differs to other races. It has been a whirlwind experience so I'm relishing this opportunity to reflect on it for the your benefit.
The race was on the 13th September in the Gold Coast Australia. My original reasoning for trying to qualify was that we would be already living in Australia by that time and so would just be a small flight across to race. I also reasoned that it would be easier to qualify as fewer athletes would want to go to Australia to race, or could afford the time or money.
As it happened, I qualified on merit and was still living in the UK. So I went anyway... it was an opportunity I didn't want to miss!
I arrived in Brisbane a week before the race in order to adjust to the timezone and had booked into the team hotel - a rather dull and lifeless Mantra hotel in Surfers Paradise which had amazing apartment rooms with wonderful sea views.
Many non-triathletes that I have spoken to about team GBR triathlon racing have assumed that I'd be part of a 'team' and mix with lots of other athletes from the start; training and eating together as a group.
Well, its not really like that at all. Many were spread around the town in different accommodations and other than the briefing two days before the race, you could have zero contact with other GBR athletes for most of the time. The facebook group attempts to bring everyone together but the reality is that people tend to stick with those they know, so its an odd sort of arrangement.
As a first timer I was really happy to have my coach Jo Lewis and another of her athletes, Sue Rossi there at the same time. I spent the first week almost exclusively with them training, chilling and eating. It could have been quite lonely and daunting had they not been there. Having never raced at the Worlds before, you see lots of athletes in the area training hard and looking super fit, and you almost feel like a fraud, it can be surprisingly intimidating.
But we had a great training week prior to the race, enjoying the sunshine, flat roads and sea swimming. We picked up another couple of athletes who also didn't know anyone, and had a good group together sharpening our race skills.
Just spending time eating, resting and training in the great weather really added to the experience. Our hotel was a 20 minute cycle from the race course and expo, also the 50m outdoor training pool that we used many times - a perfect location!
The day before the race was the swim reccie and race registration, so we were able to swim some of the course to get a feel for the currents, sighting landmarks and temperature, and this reccie seems to be a standard part of the race preparation by the organisers. Registration is where we collect our race numbers, swim hat, timing chip and goodie bag and is the point of no return! The rest of the day is spent resting, eating, getting an early night and prepared for the morning.
Our race wasn't an early start so we were able to get breakfast and head into the race area for 0900/0930. Very civilised in triathlon-racing terms! Our bikes were already racked so it was just a case of putting our kit in place and doing the last minute checks of everything. It was at this point with only 30 minutes left before transition closed that I noticed by back tyre was flat - eeekk!
Thankfully the mechanic was close by and quickly replaced my inner tube for me, and I kept my fingers crossed that would do the trick....
One of my concerns about the race was the swim start which was to be a land entry, i.e. run from the beach and dive in before swimming the 750m. Having only practiced this in the few days before the race it was hit and miss whether I could do this well. In the end it was a knee deep start, and so not too bad, however I dived off too fast and had water in my left goggle for the entire swim.....grrrr...I wasn't going to stop and adjust it so just put up with it.
Out of the water into transition and the bike. With hindsight, one of the skills I need to practice (and have been doing so since), is having shoes attached to bike to save seconds in T1, and get off quickly onto the course. This proved to be more important that I could have imagined as I head off on the bike course on my own, into a headwind for the first 8k of the race. The pack ahead of me just inched away bit by bit as they drafted off stronger riders and each other, whereas I just had to put my head down and grind it out. It was seriously tough and with a Heartrate of about 175bpm, I was certainly giving it my all!
Fortunately I found a pack for the last 12k and was able to ease it a bit on the return leg of the bike, but it meant my legs were shot for the run and I ended up running a good 90secs slower on the run that I know I am capable.
It was the toughest race I have ever done....EVER! and being amongst the best amateur (and some previous pros) triathletes in my age group in the WORLD was an amazing experience and eye-opener into the competitive world of triathlon.
I also made some new friends in the GBR team; some inspirational women who have podiumed at 60+ years old, and were such fun, and quite crazy!
On reflection I have learnt that I 1) need to work on my swim times & tactics, 2) need to smash T1, 3) get used to hard runs off hard bikes! So onwards and upwards for the Sprint Worlds in Lausanne in 2019....