Back in September 2013 I was coming to the end of the triathlon season and made the decision to complete one last race, the Bala Standard distance. Being an AG European qualifier I submitted my intent to qualify and prepared myself as much as I could with only a week left to race day. Turning up the day before I only had a chance to drive the bike course and listen to friends who said it was one of the toughest swims they had experienced. With no expectations other than to do my best I actually ended up winning my age group and therefore qualified to race the standard distance event at the 2014 Europeans in Kitzbuhel in Austria.
Fast-forward 9 months and after driving out I arrived in Kitzbuhel, with my ever supportive husband, a week before race day. Other than a large marquee being built where the finish line was going to be you would never have guessed one of the biggest triathlons in most peoples diaries was about to happen.
I know for some people arriving so early before an event would only increase their nerves and anticipation but for me it only served as confirmation that I had come to race my best. I’m not saying there weren’t any nerves because there were but having worked a lot on my mental approach to events this season I felt confident that when I raced, as long as I raced my best and as ‘hard’ as I could on the day the event could only be a success.
The week leading up to the event was a mixture of course recce’s and relaxing as much as possible. For those that know me well this involved a lot of afternoon napping something, which I take very seriously.
The swim was in the Schwarzsee Lake, a peat based lake that after a few days in the sun was warming up nicely. As a strong swimmer I was hoping that wetsuits would be banned but knew that at my start time of 7:53am there wasn’t much chance of this.
Prior to arriving in Kitzbuhel there had been an official video released of the bike course and so ensued lots of debate of the GB team Facebook page as to whether it was a TT or road bike course. Being confident on my bike and knowing I could climb and descend as well on either the decision was made for me to use my TT bike, one that after riding the bike course on our first day here I was more than happy with. Yes the climbs were tough, we were in the Alps after all, and the descents were tricky but nothing that I hadn’t experienced riding close to home.
As the week progressed the venue started to look more and more like a race was coming. The official blue carpet was being laid, the expo was being built and come Friday the racing had started with the Age Group sprint distance. Unfortunately for these guys and gals the weather took a turn for the worse and the Alpine rain arrived. This obviously made the riding conditions extremely dangerous and it was reported a couple of people had DNF’s. This race also highlighted the fact that the home nation and those from surrounding countries had brought their strongest teams and team GB would have their fiercest competition at a Europeans to date. The elite juniors and seniors were up next concluding with Alistair Brownlee dominating the men’s race on the Saturday.
Race morning arrived and the weather had greatly improved. Bikes had been racked the previous evening so it was just a case of getting my helmet and trainers set up in transition and I was good to go. I was feeling fairly calm as I completed a little warm-up, got myself into my wetsuit and said goodbye to my nervous husband, before being ushered into the holding area 20mins before race start.
The number of competitors was relatively small compared to some of the domestic open water triathlons I have competed in, with 41 women on the starting list the starting pontoon was fairly large so I wasn’t expecting too much of a fight on the start, however after finding my spot a foreign competitor decided to squeeze in between me and her friend to my left. My first thought was ‘here we go, I best sharpen my elbows and expect a bit of a beating for the first 100m’ but after taking a quick glance to the woman on my right I noticed she had her feet up high and had found a board under the pontoon to push off something I had missed during my recce’s in the previous week. I’ve made this sound like I had about 5mins in the water getting ready but it was literally 30secs of getting in before the starters horn went.
With my new found push off board I was able to get away quickly and with little bother from anyone else. Settling in quickly and breathing to my left there was no one on this side so I was able to get my early sighting strokes in and headed out to the first turn buoy at about 330m. About half way to this buoy I decided to change my breathing side and discovered there was actually a women swimming next to me. I instantly made the decision to ease off ever so slightly so I could sit just off her left shoulder. Round the first turn buoy it was a long stretch to the next and by this time another women had joined us and was swimming to my left. I wouldn’t say the rest of the swim was easy but having two people to draft from certainly helped. The run from swim exit to transition was long but from previous experience not something that should be sprinted. Arriving at my bike in good shape I quickly removed my wetsuit, fastened my helmet and was out towards the mount line.
Being in one of the earliest wave starts there weren’t too many people out on the bike course on my first lap of two. All three of the climbs and descents were on quite narrow roads so by the time I went out onto my second lap the descents were made even trickier trying to pick a line around people without losing too much speed. Trying to maintain a consistent effort for the length of the bike course was, in my view, key to getting the most out of myself. Pushing hard but not to excess on the climbs and not backing off too much on the descents. Returning to the race village for the start of the second lap I was encouraged by the shouts of support from family and friends who had made the trip out to Kitzbuhel to not only race but to support each other. Coming round the first hairpin bend on the first descent I was confronted by two chaps picking themselves up out of the trees on the outside of the bend, this served as a reminder that although I was racing I needed to stay safe to be able to finish the event. The level of support from random people out on the course was great with one person in particular standing out. Nearing the top of the third climb there was a British chap in full Sky team kit. He offered words of encouragement to each Team GB member who rode past him. He told me I was riding smooth and looking strong which at the time were the right words for me to hear.
Into T2 and by this time the sun was out in full strength and with little shade on the run course I was unsure as to how the hot weather would affect me. The run course was, like the bike course, a two lap affair with a mixture of trails and tarmac roads. I have been putting a fair amount of work into my run over the last few months and on this run course I felt the strongest I have on the run leg for a while. I was able to keep a good high cadence and I didn’t feel like I dropped my pace/effort level over the entire race. Coming down the final km I was able to dig that bit deeper and really push myself over the line.
Overall I finished 12th in my Age Group (5th Brit) but if I’m being honest the finishing position wasn’t the ‘be all and end all’. I went out with the aim of racing my best and enjoying the experience and I certainly did that. The depth of talent that was racing at this years Europeans can only be a good thing.
Next race for me is Ripon triathlon on the 12th July, a new race to me but one where I’m going to take my experience from the Europeans and continue to push myself. (Sarah Jepson)