Saturday, 14 June 2014

Racing with the big dogs

"Senior elite?" questioned the man behind the registration desk, and he was right to have his doubts. I certainly didn't look like the other senior elite triathletes who had turned up to race. The others athletes arrived drowning their lean and skinny frames in their sponsor's clothing, with top of the range bikes and some awesome looking kit (me, jealous? never). On the other hand, I was dressed in my comfy crazy-patterned trousers from Thailand clashing with a fluoro yellow 3 year old pair of trainers and was racing on my little bike I train on. Needless to say, I wasn't approached by the TV presenters for an interview whilst I was setting up in transition.

Looking like a numpty even before I arrived

It was round 1 of the British Triathlon Super Series at Blenheim Palace and I had been selected to race in the elite wave. When I received the acceptance email I was immediately excited to be racing amongst the best in Britain, with some big names and past Olympians on the start line. And I was going to be on TV! Hell yeah! But then the negative thoughts set in, and they hadn't left come race day.

I was scared of looking like a whale on the start line next to the other elite athletes that actually looked lean enough to pull off their title. I was also scared about my lack of racing experience. Over the winter, I've seen blog posts from others who have been racing park runs, time trails, cross country races and warm up triathlons which are all part of a normal winter routine. Meanwhile, I'd started a new job as a health care assistant on an emergency elderly ward to gain hospital experience. The only race I had done was to getting the patients to the toilet in time! My work involved long and heavy 12.5 hour shifts, night shifts, training days and busy commutes into the city centre. I'd rarely had a weekend off to race, and spent my time permanently exhausted from the physically and mentally draining work on the ward. I hadn't booked any time off work for the race (as I didn't expect to be selected!) so I had a normal working week including two shifts on the Friday and Saturday before the race on Sunday. I wasn't in the best frame on mind when we pulled into Blenheim palace on Sunday morning.

Blenheim = beautiful

I racked my bike, pulled some funny faces in the background of a televised interview, pulled my mum away from chatting-up one of the marshals and sat my family and Ben down in front of the burger van whilst I went and warmed up. At least they wouldn't move from there, I thought. When I returned they had demolished their bacon cobs and I was incredibly sweaty after my gentle warm up jog. I watched some of the other athletes doing their warm up routines but rather than being freaked out, I was entertained by the weird drills, stretches and moves they were doing. Rolling around the floor, contorting their bodies into funky shapes, swinging their arms around like nutters, walking sideways with their legs tied together using stretchy bands. We must have looked a mad bunch.

I almost went arse-over-tit down to the swim start. Smooth. 

I placed myself right on the outside of the bunch for the swim as I wanted to be as far away as possible from the hustle and bustle of the swim start. The swim was fun, I came out of the water 3rd senior and was ready to go get on my bike. It was just a shame that a 400m hill stood between me and transition and the world was spinning like I'd done a roly-poly race after a bottle of wine. A few girls overtook me on that hill and even more so in transition when I got stuck in my wetsuit. What a novice.

The swim start. I am on the closest edge.
I'm behind the single red kayak
Running up the hill to transition

Eventually I mounted my bike, had a near miss with a barrier but got my feet strapped in and was ready to go. I could see three girls about 100m in front of me so I raced ahead to catch them and form a group. After half a lap it became clear that I was going to blow up if I stuck at their pace so I dropped back and formed a group with some other girls. I LOVED the bike course! It was undulating, technical and was so much fun to chain gang around it in a small group of girls. After a couple of laps we caught the three girls ahead and worked as a group of six. My initial plan of 'hold a wheel and chill out on the bike so you have energy for the run' was shot straight away. I worked so hard on the bike sometimes even just to hold a wheel! Those girls were strong.

Coming into T2, I ran alongside the sea of black wetsuits on the floor looking for my bright orange run shoes marking my spot. When throwing my wetsuit down in a flap earlier, it had landed on top of my shoes. Doh! I'd run past my spot so had to do a U-turn and do the run of shame with my bike against the flow of traffic.

I had nothing left in my legs for the run after cycling for 20km at someone else's pace so I decided to chill out, enjoy it, smile all the way round and give a thumbs up to those supporting me on the course. I'd taken a gel with me to have half way round and I carried it for 2km then accidentally threw it over my shoulder as I got a bit excited running downhill. I'd have to complete this race without my sugar rush!

Overall, I finished 19th out of 29 seniors (and 28th/47 including the junior elites) which is roughly where I was aiming: somewhere in the middle. For such a strong field, I was really happy with this placing. I've already got so many pointers I can work on for next time including better mental preparation and outlook during the race: I DO deserve to be on that start line, regardless of my body weight. I may not look like an elite athlete, but I can certainly race with them!

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