Saturday, 28 June 2014

Nemo and the broken fin

I have to hold myself back from blogging about the 5 days spent in Kitzbuhel on a bit of a girls holiday with Laura Fidler and Lauren Morris and actually concentrate on writing about the race: the European Age Group Championships. Kitzbuhel was my favourite holiday - sorry, triathlon - by a long way. The scenery is incredible (I've never seen mountains before!), the bike course looked epic with its steep climbs and technical descents and the road surface is brilliant in Austria. Wanting to get a closer look at said smooth road surface, less than 2 hours after arriving into Kitzbuhel whilst doing a bike course recce with 5 friends, I decided to make friends with the floor. Most people, when involved in bike crashes, come off their bikes and roll, meaning that they get a bit of road rash but don't sustain more serious injuries. I didn't roll. I splatted. I was very lucky that in the car behind us at that very time sat a very hot German doctor. He rushed out to asses to the damage, and before I knew it there was an ambulance, fast response motorbike and police car with us, whilst I lie in the road stopping the traffic (I really don't do things by halves do I?). I got hooked up to a drip, popped in the back of an ambulance and sent to the nearest hospital where after 7 X-rays they decided nothing was broken - hooray!!

Beautiful Kitzbuhel

The next day was spent feeling sorry for myself, sat on the sofa of our apartment clutching a hot water bottle, drinking tea, and maxing out on painkillers. Laura Fidler, my physiotherapist buddy, was an absolute angel in looking after me medically, and Lauren Morris (now nicknamed Captain Chop) continued to provide entertainment, giggles and a constant supply of tea and snacks. Without these two nutters I definitely would have entered the race in a much worse state. We watched the live coverage of the elite races on my iPad and cheered on Sophia Saller who stormed to 2nd place in the women's elite field.

By Saturday - the day before the race - I was able to swim, bike and run with my injured hand, albeit in a lot of pain. I was confident I would be able to get on the start line and was praying that adrenaline would get me through the race. On Saturday afternoon we also met Ali Brownlee who managed to draw on my arm when he gave me a hug holding a permanent marker pen. I took this as a good luck omen and have not washed the pen mark off my arm yet.

Meeting the legend himself, Ali Brownlee. Lauren spoke of nothing else all day.

On Sunday morning the nerves kicked in when I saw everyone else's very fast-looking time trial bikes in transition next to my trusty steed. Before I knew it, it was 7:30am and I was on the start line with the 24 other girls in my age group. The music faded as we waited for the horn to start us off. Some kid in the audience, obviously unable to contain their excitement, chose this as the time to blow their party hooter. Being so on the ball, I did a mini false start then did the swim of shame back to the starting line. Unfortunately for me, this is all caught on camera. Finally, the real horn went and we were off! Again, like at Blenheim, I'd positioned myself on the edge of the start line so not to get caught up with the other swimmers and risk getting my painful hand hit. I was lucky to get clear water straight away and swam the whole 1500m ahead of the other girls. I was comfortable in the swim, found a good rhythm, and didn't feel too out of breath. It was just a shame I was having trouble sighting the 3rd buoy that was in the shade. I found my way around the swim in a time of 19:09, which I was really pleased with, especially as I had created a lead of over 1min 30sec to the next female. A few months back I gained the nickname Nemo because of my love for the swim, and with my left hand all strapped up today, I did feel even more like the cartoon character with the broken fin!

A misty Lake Schwarzee on race morning

Out onto the bike, and being the leading female on the course, I got loads of cheers, which was great! Most of them were in German so I couldn't understand what they were saying, but I think they were cheering me on?! Its easy for the cheers to go to your head though and I was worried I was pushing too hard too early. It's very hard to spin past someone at a comfortable racing pace when they are yelling at you to go faster! I held my lead for 10km on the bike before I was overtaken, which was actually a bit of a relief because now I could concentrate on my own race without the stress of being the leader. And I do love a good chase too. I stuck as close to her as possible (without drafting obviously) but she was strong on the bike and started to pull away. The bike was very tough with steep climbs and technical descents, and the cobbled sections were a killer for my bad hand (fin) as well. Throughout the bike course, I was overtaken by a few more strong cyclists so I entered T2 in 5th place.

It seems that I left my legs in the mountains because they were nowhere to be found on the run. The course profile published online looked pan-flat so I was in for a shock when I was presented with an undulating cross-country type course that had absolutely NO flat sections! I felt like I was running at a snail's pace, and 6km in Hannah Pace overtook me. I did my best to stick with her for a short while but she pulled away and I dug deep to keep her close. Finally, I approached the finishing straight. It felt like I had been racing for an eternity (and I was starting to get a bit peckish...). I took the GBR flag from our team manager Dawn and sprinted down the home straight to finish in 6th place in my age group.

Me, smiling, whilst I race?!

Phew! I was so happy to finish the race, and although I would have liked to have been on the podium, I am really proud of how I did. I was the fastest female in the water by quite a margin (and managed to "chick" all but 4 men too), gave those hills a good beasting, then held my own on the run (and even get a big run PB on that course too!). Being the 2nd Brit home, I also qualified for the European Champs 2015 in Geneva. Bring it on!

I have to say a massive thank you to everyone who cheered me on (in whatever language!) at the race today; it really helped me to dig deep and get up those hills. I'd also like to give a shout out to my parents and Ben who were screaming at their laptop screens as they followed online. And thanks to my friends racing in Kitzbuhel who had to adjust their plans just hours before they raced because of my little incident on the bike. Now let's go recover in style! #afterparty

A view over Kitzbuhel from the cable cars

A fab end to our time in Kitz

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