I set the goal of racing for GB about 18 months ago but never believed it would happen this quickly. I set a qualifying time in June 2018, was selected in October 2018 and finally got to pull on the GB trisuit at the Middle Distance European Championships in Targu Mures, Romania!
All middle/long distance triathlon involve an early alarm, 5:00am. The downside today was the super early alarm combined with a later start meaning we would be running in the hottest part of the day.
I completed my final checks and headed, with my bike, to the Citadel for the shuttle to the race. The briefing the night before hadn’t been that useful but as always I figured if I turned up early it would all work out.
As I arrived they were already loading bikes, so handed mine over, and took a seat on the bus and start my breakfast. After a couple of minutes an athlete came on saying athlete 220 (me) needs to go and speak to the bike team. The last thing I needed.
They had put my bike to the side and told me there was an issue. For some reason there was movement in the handle bars when using the front break. He was great and said he was a mechanic and would look at it once we got there. I went back to the bus slightly relieved but still worrying about what this meant!
40 minutes later arriving at T2, we had beaten the bikes, I racked my run kit and walked through transition. The bikes arrived. As mine had been put aside it was one of the first off but I then couldn’t find the mechanic. Brent, GB team boss, was there and I asked about a mechanic and we had a Nirvana team mechanic in a mini bus. He hadn’t set up but kindly had a look. It appeared to be missing a spacer, not sure how, but I agreed that seemed to be the issue. I also had an issue with one of the screws. There were no spares so he tightened everything he could and assured me people had raced with much worse. I set off for T1 slightly happier but a little concerned.
I racked my bike, leaving my shoes and helmet by my bike. This is unusual but we were allowed to given the hill in transition we had to scale! In hindsight I should have put my helmet in my bag at the bottom, as putting it on while running would have saved me a couple of seconds.
As always I was there early so there was a lot of time to kill. Non wetsuit swim so nothing to faff around with. I just sat on the bank in the sun warming up and going over the race plan.
We were called to line up and I was in the first wave after the elite athletes.
Finally we were lined up and I took pole position with a view of getting out the front of the swim. (220 below)
The horn fired and off I went at a sprint to get to the front. This worked very well and after 50m I was in a small group at the front and began to settle into a rhythm. Unfortunately this was slower than everyone else so I started to get swum round and over. Not the most fun experience but no where near the numbers of South Africa.
I also need new goggles as I couldn’t really see where I was going, I only saw 2 buoys of 6 on the course. Luckily I got round this by finding the hip of someone I thought was setting a good pace. I was working hard to keep up but not at max. This went perfectly until the last buoy where I unfortunately swam in to it. This small mistake meant I lost his hip and then couldn’t get back to drafting so had to go solo to the end of the swim.
I came out the water in 34:45 which I was disappointed with even though it was a non wetsuit swim. But I know not to worry as you have no idea if its long slow swim or what other people have done. So to the back of my mind and on I went. I was in fact out in 7th.
Luckily the mountain in transition turned out to be a lot easier than it had been in practice. Helmet and shoes on and off we go. On the exit I very nearly tripped over some stones but luckily I was able to get going with no accidents.
I set off pretty hard as the adrenaline was pumping but quickly tried to set in to a comfortable rhythm. Straight away I knew my power was wrong as it was in the high 200’s when I was meant to be around 215. (Lesson learnt from this race? Always calibrate before each race).
As a result I had to ride to feel and heart rate but this was challenging as the bike course was very rolly. Nothing major but 4 laps and 900m of climbing. I had thought beforehand that 4 laps of the same route would be boring but it was absolutely beautiful and all the variation kept me focussed and the ride flew by.
I had a slight hiccup in the middle when I had to top up my front water bottle. One of the changes this season has been moving from hard food to gels disclosed in water. Having topped up my bottle I managed to push the cap through and so had sticky water going everywhere. Luckily it was a fairly easy fix and the aid station came shortly after. I picked up some water and washed myself and the bike down. These are all lessons to be learnt in search of that perfect race!!!
There had been concerns the course would be very busy given the number of athletes. I however was very lucky. I didn’t really catch anyone in front of me and the people that caught me carried on by. By the fourth lap I started to lap some of the slower athletes but it was never a problem. The only thing I had to watch out for was Aqua Bike people coming flying past and not worrying about it as they didn’t have a 20k run in 34 degrees to do!
The last drama on the bike was towards the finish where there was a railway crossing. We had been told it would be covered and we all came flying down the hill towards it. There was a man waving a red flag which I assumed was just caution. I was wrong. It hadn’t been covered!! I only realised as I got to the top of the mound and all there was to do was try a little hop to get over the tracks. This worked well, but it also meant I jumped off the back of the raised road and while I did survive I do not have the bike skills for the maneuver I pulled off! Terrifying!
I was off the bike in 2hrs 22 mins which was a solid ride, although I didn’t know my time until after. The bike is my weakest leg and its a case of damage limitation. I was 7th out the swim and was now down to 9th.
It was time for the run and this is where I was going to shine.
I flew out of transition and was feeling great. 4:15 was the target pace and I was on track, maybe even a little above.
The first lap flew by and I was slowly but steadily tracking people down.
However this was when the heat started to be a problem. At 7km I was in a bad way and knew I wasn’t going to be able to keep going at this intensity. My legs felt good but I was overheating badly . I had strict instructions never to stop as you cant get going again, but I had to do something and eventually I stopped at an aid station to pour water over my head and sponges. I set off feeling a lot better and the legs still felt good. Billy was right, I couldn’t get going again and however hard I tried I could’t get below 4:40/km pace.
I will never know what would have happened if I had kept going. It crossed my mind that I was in Romania, a country I didn’t know with no support and a tight schedule to get home. I wasn’t prepared to push till I found my limit. This was also the first race of a 4 race season and there are more opportunities to put things right.
The run, which I had wanted to smash, became attritional. Grinding the km’s down while trying to stay cool. There was no breeze, no shade and they were short of water at some aid stations.
I kept going and the advantage of 4 laps was you got to see the people I had met going round as well. As the laps went on I get less smiley and observant though. Themi was going strong. Sophie and I had a continuous debate as we passed as to whether she loved running or not! Sophie parents did an excellent job supporting both Sophie and myself which was much appreciated.
I finally came home in a run time of 1:30 and a total time of 4:33.
In my age group the top 3 had run away with the race. But I had run the 4th quickest 20km so despite not going to plan I can take a lot of positives from that. I had also run myself in to 6th place and top 3 Brits (none on the podium). Top 10 and top 3 Brits also means I have pre qualified for next year in Austria if I want to race again. That will depend on how the rest of the season unfolds but Austria is a beautiful place to race.
Of course as I finished some cloud cover came in and it started to gently rain but thats life. It was still very hot!!
Post race there was time to kill before the shuttle home. I spent this recovering and debriefing with Themi and Sophie. It quickly became clear from everyone that their run was the same, set of strong then 6-9km in they had to ease off. This made me feel a lot better but I had learnt a valuable lesson that you must not stop!!
Eventually we were shuttled back to Targu Mures. While the event as a whole had been pretty chaotic the actual logistics and race had gone very smoothly. Themi and I attended the prize giving at the Citadel in the evening which was preceded by, what I can only describe as, an interesting performance.
With so many GB athletes it did have the feel of a home event and we dominated the medal ceremony. Kat Rye won the Elite women. India Woodruff, from the hotel, had come second in the aqua bike. Unfortunately Themi, Sophie and I were not required for the medal ceremony, maybe next year!!
This was my first race under the coaching of Billy and Tri Force and there are a lot of positives to take away. There are also a lot of things I learnt that can be put right next time in Whistler 70.3 (3 weeks). As Billy says as long as you learn from every race, and mistakes, you are progressing forward!
I still have a number of goals for this year so onwards and upwards!
It was an early start back to Bucharest with Themi but we are used to that. We had some issues refuelling the car but eventually returned the car and got to the airport for some lunch.
I checked in with a number of other GB Athletes. When we had to hand over our bike bags they asked us about gas canisters. One person mentioned they had some and we were told we wouldn’t be allowed on the flight with them. After a long discussion we were told could have two each. However, that then changed because apparently there there were too many of us we weren’t allowed any. All seemed a bit random but at an airport they have all the bargaining power. We tried to get them through security but unsurprinsly they were taken off us.
Once through I found out Themi had missed his flight due to the canisters and couldnt get another till the next day. I felt awful for him but also glad I hadn’t tried to get mine through!!
The final thing worth mentioning was on the flight back to Canada I got upgraded for the first time in my life to Premium Economy. This was amazing and would consider it again. It was particularly useful as due to multiple reasons we ended up sat on the plane for two hours before taking off.
But a positive end to a wonderful trip home and to Romania.
Now back to Canadian life :)!