European duathlon champion!

For someone who is more than a bit obsessive, many people find it hard to understand how I can put so much faith in the powers of fate. I’m not good at making decisions and sometimes find it easier to let life take its own course. Which I guess is how I ended up racing the European duathlon champs in Holland last weekend!

I didn’t even know the race existed until Heather Williams, the BTF performance director and a friend of mine from Cambridge asked me if I wanted to do it after watching me win the British duathlon champs.

In terms of timing (2 weeks after Challenge Fuerteventura) it worked quite well and it wouldn’t require any extra time off work so I figured it would be a fun challengeAnd after all it’s not every day you get asked to race for the GB team!

Obviously as it got closer to the race I started to think about it a bit more seriously and certainly wanted to give it a good go; but I definitely went into it with no real expectations and I was more interested in seeing how I’d cope with the distances (15km run, 60km bike, 7.5km run) which theoretically should suit me, than in chasing any particular result. Not knowing the other athletes racing makes it much easier to focus on your own race rather than worrying about how fast someone else may or may not ride or run.

It was a real treat to be looked after so well by British Triathlon and Rick and Adam (the junior coaches) and Dan (the team physio) made a big effort to make me very welcome on the team. I felt like a fraud being there in comparison to the much more talented juniors, but they did everything they could to make life easy for me – thank you! I’m not sure that I’d appreciated how much easier and less stressful it is to race with team support, in comparison to organising travel, course reccies, registration etc yourself. Literally all I had to do was race – everything else was looked after. It was fun to share a room with George Schwiening, my friend and training partner from Cambridge and I think we were both fairly proud to be representing GB together in our respective events.

In terms of the race – I really don’t think I could have done much better in terms of physical performance given my current capabilities. As compared with the run up to Fuerteventura (when I was recovering from a training camp in Majorca) I felt much fresher going into this and had an inclination I might be in a position to make the most of my fitness – though I honestly didn’t expect even my best performance to be the best of the day.
The first run was 6 laps around the town centre and I managed to stick to my race plan – 3 laps easy and build through the last 3. A couple of girls went away at the start but I settled down into a comfortable rhythm at the front of the main pack trying to avoid any argy bargy on the tight corners and be in a position to go with any breaks. It really did feel very comfortable and I could tell some of the others were working harder than me to go the same speed which was reassuring. I gradually increased the pace through the second half, fragmenting the group in lap 5 and getting a 20 to 30 sec gap by the end of the last lap. So far so good – I hadn’t expected to finish the run in second place so that was a definite bonus!

Transition was fine – though I did think it was pretty hard work pushing my bike over the mount line. And then I realised that somehow the back brake caliper had been knocked and was accounting for the resistance. By the time I had sorted that out I was back in 4th so all my work on the final lap of the run had been pointless. Never mind – onwards and upwards.

Or not…. 2 more girls went past and I was going 16m/h at race effort. Something clearly wasn’t right – so I stopped again and found exactly the same had happened with the front brake. By the time I had sorted that out and undone the quick release to stop it happening again I was back in 8th place and pretty cross with myself. OK – time to regroup. It’s a long race!

So I managed to get back into some kind of rhythm passing a few girls on the way. By the second lap I was riding reasonably well and rode back into town in a line with 3 other girls, knowing that Eva Nystrom (who I raced in Fuerteventura) was 1min 30 ahead (thanks coaches for the accurate split!). At that point I simply thought now or never, and decided to ride flat out for the final lap once we’d got safely out of the twisty town centre. I’d run well off a hard time trial the weekend before so had some confidence I could run well after a flat out bike and I really didn’t want to start the final run in a group.

So time to put my head down, grunt and groan to myself and smash it! By this point there were loads of age groupers to ride past which was good motivation and I was actually quite enjoying destroying myself! The final couple of miles into town are pretty twisty and have some sharp corners.

Not known for my sense of direction, and certainly known for being a bit dizzy at times, I rode straight past T2.


So I ended up dismounting with my bike shoes still on and running back with a panic into T2. Only a few seconds lost though and what’s that in a 3hr race. Time to enter the real hurt box!

The commentators and Rick were very good at giving accurate splits so I knew I was a minute down at the start of the run. And I also knew that Eva’s a good runner… Initial thoughts to myself were ‘I won’t catch her, just don’t get caught myself’. Until the commentator started saying how I was the better runner, what an exciting race this was, would I or wouldn’t I, etc etc. And that seemed to be enough to add the necessary fuel to my fire! I think the gap was down to 40 secs at the end of lap 1, and I caught Eva at the end of lap 2, timing it perfectly with the finish chute to get a bit of crowd support!

The last lap was probably the hardest as the surge when I went past Eva took quite a lot out of my legs. I couldn’t quite believe I was going to win this race!

It was somewhat surreal finishing and having the medal ceremony on top of a London double decker bus – with the national anthem (a very cheesy version!) playing! It was great fun to have such close head to head racing with Eva again (I initially passed her on the bike in Fuerte when she dropped her chain so I think my brake issues evened out the mechanicals between us!) – and I couldn’t get over how friendly and generous the other athletes were in their congratulations.

The BTF team couldn’t have been more helpful and supportive and I really do feel very privileged to have been given this opportunity; it still seems somewhat surreal to be in a situation where I’m turning up to elite races and doing quite well. If someone had told me this is what I’d be doing 5 or 6 years ago when I started my oncology training I would have laughed in their face in disbelief!

The afternoon was spent watching the junior races – I think I was more nervous watching George I than I was about my own race. I know how much she has improved over the last year and really hoped she’d get the chance to prove this both to herself and everyone else. Though she finished in silver medal position she had an incredible start managing to create a 30 sec lead on the bike – which she then lost by going the wrong way. It’s a mature athlete who can come back from a mistake like that and she managed to keep her head to ride back up to the front pair. Though she didn’t quite have the run legs to win after her work on the bike the fact that she engineered such a significant break on a flat course highlights the huge improvement in her cycling over the last year. Richard Horton won the boys’ junior event with Callum and Liam placing highly in the top 10. Good day round for team GB!

We all went out for dinner together after the race and I then regressed to a teenager again, chilling out in an ice cream park and loitering around town with the others. I’m not sure what it says about me that I didn’t feel too old to hang out with a bunch of 18 year olds!

Anyhow time now to get my head down with work and training for a few weeks before the next race, half Challenge Barcelona at the end of May. Bring it on!

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