Friday, 15 August 2014

An un-invited guest

You look at the start list one week before your event and mentally tick-off the competition, who you might be able to beat and who is way out of your league. Then you make a prediction about where you may place or what might be a sensible aim for the race. I did this for each of the British Super Series races and the Liverpool triathlon was no different. But then, come race day, there's always someone else who turns up - a last-minute entry or an invited guest racer for example - that may throw your plans up in the air. Today, somebody showed up who certainly wasn't invited: Bertha.

Hurricane Bertha was scheduled to hit Liverpool between 3-4pm on Sunday, the exact time of our women's elite start. At the race briefing on Saturday evening they warned us of 40mph gusts, torrential rain and possible thunder and lightning too. I've never been one to wimp out of bad weather before. Come on, I live and train in England: I am always out training in the wind and rain! But it sounded like this weather warning was a scale above the usual grey drizzle I am accompanied by, and the race organisers were taking it seriously. Phrases such as "bike course flooding", "re-arrange the course", "ban deep section wheels" and "cancel the bike course"were thrown around at the briefing. And one phrase that sent alarm bells ringing in my head: "make it a duathlon". Surely they can't be serious?! But yes, if there is thunder and lightning the swim would be cancelled. My first thought: I will actually come last if this happens!

On race morning I had a lie in. How strange, I was used to racing at the crack of dawn. However, don't forget that as well as being talented at swimming, cycling and running, triathletes have also mastered the skill of faffing, so before I knew it, the morning had passed and it was time to head to Liverpool. I'm not sure if all this being an elite athlete will ever sink in because the whole experience each time never fails to amuse me. I get far too much fun out putting on my race number tattoos, collecting the freebies and racking my bike on the blue carpeted transition zone. And don't get me started on the TV crews, the athlete's lounge (every bit as good as it sounds!) and all other executive treatment we got. I could definitely get used to this!

On the blue carpet

I warmed up a couple of hours before the race in glorious sunshine, only a slight breeze and a few clouds scattered across the sky. "Well the MET office ballsed it up again, didn't they?" I thought smugly to myself. No less than 10 minutes later, the sky went very dark, the bin next to me blew over and every person on the other side of the docks opened up their umbrellas. Uh-oh. It was too late for weather dancing now, Big Bertha has made her entrance.

After warming up, we lined up by the docks waiting for our numbers to be called so we could get onto the start line. They kept us waiting for a long time. Then I heard a roll of thunder. Quick, WEATHER DANCE!! Please please please don't cancel the swim. Go away thunder! After a short delay, the organisers finally allowed us into the water to start the swim. Phew! After watching the footage this morning from last week's race in London where I had chosen the furthest line to the first turn buoy, I positioned myself much better this week, all the way to the left, with the left turn buoy coming up first.

I'd forgotten about the jellyfish in the docks, but I knew they didn't sting and they actually looked really pretty so I enjoyed swimming alongside them. Sticking with the Nemo theme of my recent blogs, this week I'm Dory:

Oooooh pretty!

I could see two swimmers ahead had got a lead but I was blocked by swimmers to my right so was unable to go follow their feet. I churned along at what felt like a decent pace (I was later told that my parents had to jog alongside the docks to keep up!) then exited the water in 10th place. I only had a flight of brick stairs, a 180 degree turn and a slippery blue carpet to negotiate now. All whilst trying to take off my hat, goggles and wetsuit and not drop any of them outside my designated box. Talk about multi-tasking.

I'm furthest to the left (i.e. closest to the camera) nailing a high elbow recovery.

Currently about 3rd place in the swim here, I'm closest to the kayak

I had fun at the start of the bike course. We had a little chasing group of about 6 of us and we were working well together most of the time. That was until Katie Synge and India Lee caught us and ramped up the pace. Those two are so strong on the bike and managed to shell quite a few of us out of the back of the group. I was then with a smaller group of girls but did not particularly like the way they were cornering, especially with the winds picking up, so decided to take the lead into one of the corners and dropped them behind me. I cycled alone for a short while then was joined by another chasing pack just before the entrance into T2. I was so glad to have stayed on my bike! The crosswinds were brutal and it was often a battle to stay upright on the bike. The marshals, instead of doing their job of pointing us in the right direction for the course, were left clinging on to as many of the metal railings as possible to stop them from blowing into us.

These photos do not give justice to the conditions we had! It looks positively sunny here but in actual fact it was abysmal.

Coming into T2 I almost had an accident as the wind caught my bike just as someone was running past me with their bike. I then ran holding the saddle and stem but the wind was still making me weave around so I finally gave up, picked up my bike and carried it into transition. The winds were so so strong on the run. Traffic cones were blowing everywhere and the metal railings spontaneously collapsed, which wasn't good when your course is marked out for you in traffic cones and metal railings... For most of the course we had a cross wind but there were sections of headwind and I think I may have actually moved backwards during these. I laughed to myself as got thrown around by the wind and a spectator almost got blown into me. The rain was pelting down too, but I was still having fun on the course. I did the best I could to hold off the chasing girls but some just ran too fast. As Gwen Jorgensen overtook me, my mum shouted her usual phrase as I am being overtaken on the run: "Stick with her!!". Sorry, not going to happen this time, mum. Ben did get some good photos today though (it's only taken the whole triathlon season for him to work out how to use my camera...)

After the finish (and playing superhero as I caught Eloise collapsing) I declined a foil blanket that most other athletes had around them to keep them warm (hey, that's what body fat is for) then had a little chat with Gwen (I was so excited about meeting her but think I managed to keep my cool, despite sweating perfusively). I have a lot of respect for Gwen for racing in those conditions today; it would have been so easy for her to not race as it was too dangerous before her upcoming important races but instead she used it as experience racing in terrible weather. What an awesome athlete she is, and such a down-to-earth person as well. I look forwards to seeing you in Edmonton!

Thanks to everyone who came out to support in such terrible conditions, thanks to Ben for playing photographer again and thanks to all the marshals out on the course who had to endure that weather. Go make yourselves a cuppa and give yourselves a pat on the back because you are awesome!

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