A bit of a breakthrough?

When I was planning my research my supervisor advised me to plan two kinds of experiment.  Firstly some ‘safe’ research, namely work with a high chance of success in terms of producing results but unlikely to be groundbreaking.  Then some more adventurous experiments; these would be less likely to produce publishable results but if successful would be far more rewarding.

Sage advice from a wise professor.  I’ve taken a similar approach to my triathlon racing this year.

To me, prize money and winning are far less important than finding my own limits.  So if TriStar Milton Keynes was my “safe” race, the European 70.3 Championships in Wiesbaden, Germany, was most definitely my gamble.
Now we all know that “European Championships” in terms of middle and long distance triathlons is a loose definition; clearly not all the good athletes in Europe entered the race and Challenge had already held its own European Championship earlier in the year.  However, due to the generous prize fund and qualification points on offer Wiesbaden 70.3 truly had attracted a world class field with multiple world and European champions, Ironman winners and top 10 Kona finishers on the start list.  I make a point of not looking at start lists until race week – but when I finally looked at it I took a big gulp and started to panic!  There was no doubt this was a definite step up from anything I had ever done before as a pro.  I’d wanted a challenge but hadn’t banked on one as big as this.

Wiesbaden is a fairly small town near to Frankfurt; lots of old buildings and a simultaneous beer festival made for an ideal triathlon location.  The race has a split transition which makes preparation for the race more difficult than usual.  Pre-race day was non-stop from 8 am to 6pm with a bit of training, obligatory blood tests and race briefings and two trips to and from the lake in the car.  I did question whether all this faffing was worth it (patience Goss, patience!) but tried to keep as many negative thoughts as possible out of my mind.  Luckily my travel companion, Joe Skipper, was far more laid back than me (ask him how he got home if you want a laugh….).

So race day dawned and I can honestly say I haven’t felt so overwhelmed and out of my depth at the start of a race since Hawaii 2008.  I turned up at that race feeling that I didn’t deserve to be there and had exactly the same sentiments this weekend.  Nervous, yes.  Excited, yes.

Completely inadequate, yes.  I bumped into Amy Forshaw and her boyfriend Rob as I was jogging off to do my warm up and almost burst into tears on them! I guess I was almost overcome by the moment and verging on the wrong side of pre-race nerves.

Fortunately, as soon as the gun went off any nerves evaporated and I quickly found an inner sense of calm.  I was in a pack for most of the swim which made navigation and swimming hard relatively easy.  I’ve no idea where my 26.13 swim split came from but it’s a huge jump forwards from anything I’ve done before.  I suspect the course was a bit short, but I was MUCH closer to the lead men and women, in particular Jodie Swallow, one of the best swimmers in triathlon, than I had anticipated.  Good morale booster!

So onto the bike.  It’s a challenging and interesting course; 1500m of climbing over 91km with some technical descents but a smooth road surface.  As always I took 10 miles or so to settle into my rhythm.  Eva Wutti (who finished second here last year) sped past early on but after that I gradually worked my way up the field passing Mieke Krebs, Katja Rabe, Daniella Sammler right behind some male ‘pro’, Tine Deckers and Holly Lawrence.  I felt great and was climbing well, putting time into all of them on the climbs.  Unfortunately my descending leaves a lot to be desired.  I had a very near miss with a jogger on one tight corner early on and skidded across the road.  Then at about 40 miles I overcooked a corner crashing up the curb and into a signpost.  Good entertainment for spectators….bit of a shake up for me! I stopped very quickly to check I hadn’t buckled my wheels but luckily both I and my bike seemed to have escaped unscathed.

For 20 miles or so I was yo-yoing with Tine Deckers which made me realise just how much time I lose on the descents.  I was putting big chunks of time into her on the climbs, and managed to get a fairly big lead at the start of the final long downhill.  But she made up all of that and more by descending competently.  As she said to me after the race, “That’s how I win Ironman France, by going downhill fast!”

Definitely something I need to work on.

Anyhow for me I had a very solid ride, and came off the bike in 8th place, just behind Tine.  So onto the run.  Joe had said to me before the race, “It must be great knowing you can rely on a strong run off the bike”.  My response had been that I don’t actually feel confident in my run.  I never quite know how my legs will feel and don’t yet completely trust my ability to run well.  
Having said that, towards the end of this bike ride I knew I’d be able to run.  Since the curb incident I’d just wanted to get to the bottom of the hill unscathed without losing any more places on the descent.  And as soon as I left transition I knew I’d be able to put in a decent run split.  It’s a 4 lap run which I like.  Get the first lap done, and then you know it’s only an hour or so left.  Rob was there giving me very accurate splits to the ladies ahead which really helps motivate me – thanks!  So I ran past Tine in transition, Eva Wutti towards the end of the second lap and then finally caught Delphine Pelletier with about a mile to go to finish in 5th place, just 90 seconds behind Jodie, more than I could ever have hoped for.

The crowds may have wondered why I was so ecstatic to finish in 5th – I think I celebrated as though I’d won the race!

I honestly think this race represents my best result so far.  5th doesn’t sound as good as 1st or 2nd, but 5th place in such a strong field, particularly when I was so out of my comfort zone at the start, means so much more.  One day I’ll start to believe in myself.  But at the moment I’m going to settle for where I am mentally, and concentrate on what I can do to bring myself a bit closer to the big girls.  Starting with some descending!

First though I’ve got the small matter of Zofingen duathlon world champs in 3 weeks; this will be a whole new kind of challenge!

Congratulations to all the other Brits who raced, particularly Amy Forshaw who won her age group and Joe who finished a more than respectable 15th.

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