Qualifying for 70.3 or middle distance (1900m swim, 90km bike and half marathon run) takes a slightly different format to qualifying at the sprint and standard distances in triathlon. For a sprint or standard you have enter specific races outlined by the British Triathlon Federation, racing against other hopeful entrants. For the 70.3 you are able to choose your own race (with specific guidelines) and then submit your time to the panel to see whether you made the qualifying time.
So my Team GB journey, unbeknownst to me, began in June 2016 when I raced the Staffordshire Ironman 70.3, with no thoughts of qualifying. This was my first season of dabbling in the sprint and standard qualifier races, but Staffordshire was more about experiencing the Ironman brand.
Staffs was a great race and an amazing experience, I loved competing at an Ironman branded event, I had a great swim which I managed to draft loads, a fast bike but I had a really disappointingly tough run. A few months later someone suggested I submit my time. I really didn’t think I’d get a chance of qualifying but hey you’ve got to be in it to win it! So off it went!
After convincing myself that I wouldn’t have made the cut off (thanks to Sarah Hyatt’s really dodgy maths!!) I was somewhat surprised to receive THE email confirming my place in the team!
So there it was – I was going to the European Champs in Denmark for 70.3.
I’d already signed up with Streamline Coaching to help me work on my running and biking, so I had 8 months to really focus on my training plan.
Training went really well, with only 1 month off running in January due to a hip issue, which came and went luckily. The miles began to ramp up, the brick sessions began to appear on the training schedule, a couple of warm up races and I got to the start line in the best shape I could have hoped for.
With the event being all self funded I had to make the trip on my own but had the lovely Sarah Hyatt to share the experience with. I also met some amazing girls on the FB group who were also travelling solo and were looking for people to room with – so we soon became the fabulous 4!
Arriving at LHR and meeting up with lots of the GB Team all wearing the GB kit was really surreal. It felt so strange (but awesome too!) to be wearing GB kit! A guy asked me in the queue what I was competing in and where I was going – I have this really bad habit of playing it down. He seemed pretty impressed so I gave myself a good talking too to not play it down again!! Even the cabin crew put out a message wishing all the GB team the best of luck!
We arrived in Denmark to be greeted by a lot of rain….and that’s how it continued for 3 days! We weren’t impressed! We had 3 days to settle in and get ourselves race ready. Although very tired from the early start and travelling we all decided to get our run recce completed that afternoon. We ran out to the lake we would be swimming in which was about 3km from the hotel. We were all very excited and there was lots of chat on the run about what lay ahead. We then headed over to the expo to register and pick up the long awaited branded rucksack….big disappointment!! More cuts from Challenge and we were given a shopping bag! Much hilarity followed about the lack of rucksack and the need for yet another reusable bag! Oh well they must be giving it to us at the finish line with our medal we all thought!
The next day we got out on the bikes and managed to pick up a few more girls, the sun was out and we cruised around checking out transition and the start and finish of the bike course. We got our first realisation that there is a reason there are A LOT of wind turbines in Denmark. We were all hoping that the wind would drop by Saturday – that was wishful thinking!
Friday morning and the countdown began – 24 hours until race day. The nerves were setting in. The GB team had planned a swim recce – it was great to meet up with so many of the team and we had a lot of nervous laughs together. The rest of the day was all about resting, eating and hydrating.
We had to cycle back to the lake that evening to rack our bikes and hang our bags – a small personality failure occurred as it was torrential rain and really cold – we were praying it would clear by the morning as the forecast had promised.
Back to the hotel and it was time to get to bed, the bikes and bags were all racked and it time to get some sleep. Typically the nerves were there and it took me ages to go to sleep but it wasn’t too much of an early start.
I hate race morning – I hate the hanging around, I struggle to eat breakfast, the nerves really kicked in. I just wanted to get going. Everyone was busying themselves, I definitely wasn’t very talkative but I tried to stay calm. I was missing my support crew to keep me calm. Sarah and I got ourselves a lift up to the lake so we didn’t need to faff around with the shuttle buses which was a relieve.
Finally, as promised the sun was shining! The wind hadn’t dropped but you can’t have everything right? Transition was buzzing, the music was blaring and everyone was busy checking everything and anything! I had a new strategy for finding my bike in the sea of carbon – I re-counted my running strides from the end of the row to my bike, row 5 – 30 steps! (This proved to really help me later in transition – good tip from Lou Gubb!) There was more hanging around, time for some photos, quick chat with our team manager Bret and then Sarah and I headed over to the swim start. I really just wanted to get this show on the road!
Once I had my wetsuit on and was queuing up for our wave to enter the water I began to feel much calmer. This was it, this is what all the training had been for. The swim was great, I got a good start, I tried to find someone to draft but it was a bit hit and miss, a bit of drafting here and there but not as much as I’d hoped for. As we turned the last buoy there was another 200m to the exit – I was trying to power hard to try and get the best placing for the swim. Transition went smoothly (although I noticed that the empty rack which was next to my bike row was now full of bikes! These little things are sent to test you!).
Now it was time for 3 hours on the bike. The sun was shining but the wind was up. I felt like I had a good placing on the swim but knew it wouldn’t be long before the girls started to come past me on the bike. I knew they would but I had to keep positive. I knew this would be my weakest discipline but I kept reminding myself that I maybe towards the back but I’m nearer the front than those that didn’t qualify!!
Something always happens that you can’t control and after only 5 miles on the bars I began to get really bad back ache – I hadn’t had backache on the bike for as long as I can remember. This really began to get to me and I wish I’d popped the precautionary ibuprofen I’d planned on taking earlier that morning. It got really tough going. The pain just wouldn’t shift. The only relieve came when I was out of the saddle but on a flattish course there wasn’t any opportunity to get up and out. I did get lonely on the bike – with 20m drafting rule in place and being at the back of the field there wasn’t anyone to work with and I just wanted to chat to someone!! I need to learn to like my own company more! I counted down the miles with about 15 to go – I hadn’t loved the bike course at all. This part of Denmark was very green and rolling with a lot of wind turbines but really that was it!
I came into transition and was relieved to hand over my bike and get my trainers on. I knew the run would be tough – it had warmed up to 25 degrees but running was more my comfort zone.
I had planned to start steady and not go off to fast, the legs were feeling not bad at all – the upside of not having a great bike section. I soon hit a water station and knew I needed to drink at every station as it was really warm – it was about 2.30pm and not a cloud in the sky. I made the mistake of running through the first station – little went in the mouth so from then on I decided to walk through each station – this would benefit me in the long run!
The run was 4 x 5km laps – the first section was an out and back on the main road, although this could have been a bit boring this turned out to be my best section of the course – it was easier to maintain a constant pace and it was great to see all the team out on the course (other than Steve obviously who I’ve worked out was just finishing as I started the run!). The back end of the loop was very wiggly and through the town including running through the library which was slightly weird (I felt like there was no air in there) – although there support was great – thanks Neil and family! – I found this much tougher going and had to dig deep to keep the pace constant. The run is always much more of a mental battle than a physical one. Each lap had its own goal – lap 1 was about getting a good pace going, lap 2 was about hitting the 10km and feeling OK. I got to 10km and felt that I it was going really well – I remember saying to myself – I’ve got this, 2 more laps and I’m done!
I desperately didn’t want to take any walking breaks other than at the water stations and they were just enough to drink a cup and throw a cup over the head. With lap 3 complete I knew that I had this. A bit of chanting on the way round of ‘I am an endurance athlete’ helped to keep me going – thanks for the tip Lou!! On the last loop back I started counting how many GBR were behind me. I was relieved to see I wasn’t the last Brit and I was still overtaking people. I started to visualise the finish and was so excited that I was going to complete it and the run had gone to plan. The last stretch through the town and finally it was time to take the right hand lane, up the red carpet.
More chanting of ‘I am a GB finisher’ to get me to the end and I crossed the line. I wanted a sub 2 hour half but came in just over in 2.01 – that was good enough for me!
A few tears as always hanging on the barrier and there it was I had competed in a European Championship and raced in my GB suit. Final time 6.03 – sub 6 would have been great but it was still a PB on a very windy course. I was happy with that!
I headed over to the baggage and food area and spent ages there chatting to so many people – physically and emotionally exhausted but buzzing. Later that evening was the awards ceremony where Tara and Steve both collected their well deserved medals. I was supposed to go to the after party with the girls but after grabbing some food I was done!
The whole experience has been amazing – I’m delighted that I had the opportunity to do this and must thank my wonderful supportive family for letting train all hours to achieve this, Steve at Streamline Coaching for getting me to the start line in the best possible shape I could have hoped for and to James May at Prospect Estate Agents for sponsoring me and making it all possible. Who knows if I’ll get the opportunity again but I’ve met and raced with some amazingly talented people and I’ll treasure the memories forever.